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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand 
eight hundred and fifty-one, by 


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of New York. 

Engineering & 



THE pleasure and profit which the translator 
has received from the great work here presented, 
have induced him to lay it before his fellow-teach- 
ers and students of Mathematics in a more access- 
ible form than that in which it has hitherto ap- 
peared. The want of a comprehensive map of the 
wide region of mathematical science a bird's-eye 
view of its leading features, and of the true bear- 
ings and relations of all its parts is felt by every 
thoughtful student. He is like the visitor to a 
great city, who gets no just idea of its extent and 
situation till he has seen it from some command- 
ing eminence. To have a panoramic view of the 
whole district presenting at one glance all the 
parts in due co-ordination, and the darkest nooks 
clearly shown is invaluable to either traveller or 
student. It is this which has been most perfect- 
ly accomplished for mathematical science by the 
author whose work is here presented. 

Clearness and depth, comprehensiveness and 
precision, have never, perhaps, been so remarkably 
united as in AUGUSTE COMTE. He views his sub- 
ject from an elevation which gives to each part of 
the complex whole its true position and value, 
while his telescopic glance loses none of the need- 
ful details, and not only itself pierces to the heart 


of the matter, but converts its opaqueness into 
such transparent crystal, that other eyes are en- 
abled to see as deeply into it as his own. 

Any mathematician who peruses this volume 
will need no other justification of the high opin- 
ion here expressed ; but others may appreciate the 
following endorsements of well-known authorities. 
Mill, in his " Logic," calls the work of M. Comte 
" by far the greatest yet produced on the Philoso- 
phy of the sciences ;" and adds, " of this admira- 
ble work, one of the most admirable portions is that 
in which he may truly be said to have created the 
Philosophy of the higher Mathematics :" Morell, 
in his " Speculative Philosophy of Europe," says, 
" The classification given of the sciences at large, 
and their regular order of development, is unques- 
tionably a master-piece of scientific thinking, as 
simple as it is comprehensive ;" and Lewes, in 
his " Biographical History of Philosophy," names 
Comte " the Bacon of the nineteenth century," 
and says, "I unhesitatingly record my conviction 
that this is the greatest work of our age." 

The complete work of M. Comte his " Cours 
de Philosophic Positive" fills six large octavo vol- 
umes, of six or seven hundred pages each, two 
thirds of the first volume comprising the purely 
mathematical portion. The great bulk of the 
" Course" is the probable cause of the fewness of 
those to whom even this section of it is known. 
Its presentation in its present form is therefore felt 
by the translator to be a most useful contribution 
to mathematical progress in this country. 



The comprehensiveness of the style of the au- 
thor grasping all possible forms of an idea in one 
Briarean sentence, armed at all points against 
leaving any opening for mistake or forgetfulness 
occasionally verges upon cumbersomeness and 
formality. The translator has, therefore, some- 
times taken the liberty of breaking up or condens- 
ing a long sentence, and omitting a few passages 
not absolutely necessary, or referring to the pecu- 
liar " Positive philosophy" of the author ; but he 
has generally aimed at a conscientious fidelity to 
the original. It has often been difficult to retain 
its fine shades and subtile distinctions of mean- 
ing, and, at the same time, replace the peculiarly 
appropriate French idioms by corresponding En- 
glish ones. The attempt, however, has always 
been made, though, when the best course has been 
at all doubtful, the language of the original has 
been followed as closely as possible, and, when 
necessary, smoothness and grace have been un- 
hesitatingly sacrificed to the higher attributes of 
clearness and precision. 

Some forms of expression may strike the reader 
as unusual, but they have been retained because 
they were characteristic, not of the mere language 
of the original, but of its spirit. When a great 
thinker has clothed his conceptions in phrases 
which are singular even in his own tongue, he who 
professes to translate him is bound faithfully to 
preserve such forms of speech, as far as is practi- 
cable ; and this has been here done with respect 
to such peculiarities of expression as belong to the 


author, not as a foreigner, but as an individual 
not "because he writes in French, but because he 
is Auguste Comte. 

The young student of Mathematics should not 
attempt to read the whole of this volume at once, 
but should peruse each portion of it in connexion 
with the temporary subject of his special study : 
the first chapter of the first book, for example, 
while he is studying Algebra ; the first, chapter of 
the second book, when he has made some progress 
in Geometry; and so with the rest. Passages 
which are obscure at the first reading will bright- 
en up at the second ; and as his own studies cover 
a larger portion of the field of Mathematics, he 
will see more and more clearly their relations to 
one another, and to those which he is next to take 
up. For this end he is urgently recommended to 
obtain a perfect familiarity with the " Analytical 
Table of Contents," which maps out the whole 
subject, the grand divisions of which are also in- 
dicated in the Tabular View facing the title-page. 
Corresponding heads will be found in the body of 
the work, the principal divisions being in SMALL 
CAPITALS, and the subdivisions in Italics. For 
these details the translator alone is responsible. 



ENCE 17 


Measuring Magnitudes 18 

Difficulties 19 

General Method . 20 

Illustrations 21 

1 . Falling Bodies 21 

2. Inaccessible Distances 23 

3. Astronomical Facts 24 


A Science, not an Art 25 


Their different Objects 27 

Their different Natures 29 

Concrete Mathematics 31 

Geometry and Mechanics 32 

Abstract Matliematics 33 

The Calculus, or Analysis 33 


Its Universality 36 

Its Limitations 37 







Division of Functions into Abstract and Concrete .... 47 

Enumeration of Abstract Functions 50 


The Calculus of Values, or Arithmetic 57 

Its Extent 57 

Its true Nature 59 

The Calculus of Functions 61 

Two Modes of obtaining Equations 61 

1. By the Relations between the given Quantities . 61 

2. By the Relations between auxiliary Quantities . . 64 
Corresponding Divisions of the Calculus of Functions . 67 



Its Object 69 

Classification of Equations 70 


Their Classification 71 


Its Limits 72 

General Solution 72 

What we know in Algebra '. 74 


Its limited Usefulness 76 

Different Divisions of the two Systems 78 










Preliminary Remarks 88 

Its early History 89 


Infinitely small Elements 91 

Examples : 

1. Tangents 93 

2. Rectification of an Arc 94 

3. Quadrature of a Curve 95 

4. Velocity in variable Motion , 95 

5. Distribution of Heat 96 

Generality of the Formulas 97 

Demonstration of the Method 98 

Illustration by Tangents 102 


Method of Limits 103 

Examples : 

1, Tangents 104 

2. Rectifications 105 

Fluxions and Fluents 106 


Derived Functions 108 

An extension of ordinary Analysis v 108 

Example : Tangents 109 

Fundamental Identity of the three Methods 110 

Their comparative Value 113 

That of Leibnitz 113 

That. of Newton '. 115 

That. of Lagrange 117 







1. Use of the Differential Calculus as preparatory to 

that of the Integral 123 

2. Employment of the Differential Calculus alone. . 125 

3. Employment of the Integral Calculus alone .... 125 

Three Classes of Questions hence resulting ... 126 


Two Cases : Explicit and Implicit Functions 127 

Two sub-Cases : a single Variable or several .... 1 29 
Two other Cases : Functions separate or combined 130 
Reduction of all to the Differentiation of the ten ele- 
mentary Functions 131 

Transformation of derived Functions for new Variables 132 

Different Orders of Differentiation 133 

Analytical Applications 133 


Its fundamental Division : Explicit and Implicit Func- 
tions 135 

Subdivisions : a single Variable or several 136 

Calculus of partial Differences 137 

Another Subdivision : different Orders of Differentiation 138 

Another equivalent Distinction 140 

Quadratures 142 

Integration of Transcendental Functions 143 

Integration by Parts 143 

Integration of Algebraic Functions 143 

Singular Solutions 144 

Definite Integrals 146 

Prospects of the Integral Calculus 1 48 


CHAPTER V. pagc 



Ordinary Questions of Maxima and Minima 151 

A new Class of Questions 152 

Solid of least Resistance ; Brachystochrone ; Isope- 

rimeters 153 




Two Classes of Questions 157 

1. Absolute Maxima and Minima 157 

Equations of Limits 159 

A more general Consideration 159 

2. Relative Maxima and Minima 160 

Other Applications of the Method of Variations 162* 




Its general Character 167 

Its true Nature 168 


Its Identity with this Calculus 172 



Series 173 

Interpolation 173 

Approximate Rectification, &c 174 







The true Nature of Geometry 179 

Two fundamental Ideas 181 

1. The Idea of Space 181 

2. Different kinds of Extension 182 


Nature of Geometrical Measurement 185 

Of Surfaces and Volumes 185 

Of curve Lines 187 

Of right Lines 189 


Infinity of Lines . 190 

Infinity of Surfaces 191 

Infinity of Volumes 192 

Analytical Invention of Curves, &c 193 


Properties of Lines and Surfaces 1 95 

Necessity of their Study 195 

1. To find the most suitable Property 195 

2. To pass from the Concrete to the Abstract 1 97 

Illustrations : 

Orbits of the Planets 198 

Figure of the Earth 1 99 


Their fundamental Difference 203 

1. Different Questions with respect to the same 

Figure 204 

2. Similar Questions with respect to different Figures 204 

Geometry of the Ancients ' 204 

Geometry of the Moderns 205 

Superiority of the Modern 207 

The Ancient the base of the Modern .., . 209 






Lines ; Polygons ; Polyhedrons 212 

Not to be farther restricted 213 

Improper Application of Analysis 214 

Attempted Demonstrations of Axioms 216 



Descriptive Geometry ....'. 220 


Trigonometry 225 

Two Methods of introducing Angles 226 

1. By Arcs 226 

2. By trigonometrical Lines 226 

Advantages of the latter 226 

Its Division of trigonometrical Questions 227 

1. Relations between Angles and trigonometrical 
Lines 228 

2. Relations between trigonometrical Lines and 
Sides 228 

Increase of trigonometrical Lines 228 

Study of the Relations between them 230 






Reduction of Figure to Position 233 

Determination of the position of a Point 234 


Expression of Lines by Equations 237 

Expression of Equations by Lines 238 

Any change in the Line changes the Equation 240 

Every " Definition" of a Line is an Equation 241 

Choice of Co-ordinates t, 245 

Two different points of View 245 

1. Representation of Lines by Equations 246 

2. Representation of Equations by Lines 246 

Superiority of the rectilinear System 248 

Advantages of perpendicular Axes 249 


Determination of a Point in Space 251 

Expression of Surfaces by Equations 253 

Expression of Equations by Surfaces 253 


Imperfections of Analytical Geometry 258 

Relatively to Geometry 258 

Relatively to Analysis 258 





ALTHOUGH Mathematical Science is the most ancient 
and the most perfect of all, yet the general idea which 
we ought to form of it has not yet been clearly deter- 
mined. Its definition and its principal divisions have 
remained till now vague and uncertain. Indeed the 
plural name " The Mathematics" by which we com- 
monly designate it, would alone suffice to indicate the 
want of unity in the common conception of it. 

In truth, it was not till the commencement of the last 
century that the different fundamental conceptions which 
constitute this great science were each of them suffi- 
ciently developed to permit the true spirit of the whole 
to manifest itself with clearness. Since that epoch the 
attention of geometers has been too exclusively absorbed 
by the special perfecting of the different branches, and 
by the application which they have made of them to the 
most important laws of the universe, to allow them to 
give due attention to the general system of the science. 

But at the present time the progress of the special 
departments is no longer so rapid as to forbid the con- 
templation of the whole. The science of mathematics 



is now sufficiently developed, both in itself and as to its 
most essential application, to have arrived at that state 
of consistency in which we ought to strive to arrange its 
different parts in a single system, in order to prepare for 
new advances. We may even observe that the last im- 
portant improvements of the science have directly paved 
the way for this important philosophical operation, by im- 
pressing on its principal parts a character of unity which 
did not previously exist. 

To form a just idea of the object of mathematical sci- 
ence, we may start from the indefinite and meaningless 
definition of it usually given, in calling it "The science 
of magnitudes" or, which is more definite, "The sci- 
ence which has for its object the measurement of mag- 
nitudes.'''' Let us see how we can rise from this rough 
sketch (which is singularly deficient in precision and 
depth, though, at bottom, just) to a veritable definition, 
worthy of the importance, the extent, and the difficulty 
of the science. 


Measuring Magnitudes. The question of measur- 
ing a magnitude in itself presents to the mind no othei 
idea than that of the simple direct comparison of this 
magnitude with another similar magnitude, supposed to 
be known, which it takes for the unit of comparison 
among all others of the same kind. According to this 
definition, then, the science of mathematics vast and 
profound as it is with reason reputed to be instead of 
being an immense concatenation of prolonged mental la- 
bours, which offer inexhaustible occupation to our in- 
tellectual activity, Would seem to consist of a simple 


series of mechanical processes for obtaining directly the 
ratios of the quantities to be measured to those by which 
we wish to measure them, by the aid of operations of 
similar character to the superposition of lines, as prac- 
ticed by the carpenter with his rule. 

The error of this definition consists in presenting as 
direct an object which is almost always, on the contrary, 
very indirect. The direct measurement of a magnitude, 
by superposition or any similar process, is most frequent- 
ly an operation quite impossible for us to perform ; so 
that if we had no other means for determining magni- 
tudes than direct comparisons, we should be obliged to re- 
nounce the knowledge of most of those which interest us. 

Difficulties. The force of this general observation 
will be understood if we limit ourselves to consider spe- 
cially the particular case which evidently offers the most 
facility that of the measurement of one straight line 
by another. This comparison, which is certainly the 
most simple which we can conceive, can nevertheless 
scarcely ever be effected directly. In reflecting on the 
whole of the conditions necessary to render a line sus- 
ceptible of a direct measurement, we see that most fre- 
quently they cannot be all fulfilled at the same time. 
The first and the most palpable of these conditions 
that of being able to pass over the line from one end of 
it to the other, in order to apply the unit of measurement 
to its whole length evidently excludes at once by far the 
greater part of the distances which interest us the most ; 
in the first place, all the distances between the celestial 
bodies, or from any one of them to the earth ; and then, 
too, even the greater number of terrestrial distances, which 
are so frequently inaccessible. But even if this first con 


dition be found to be fulfilled, it is still farther necessary 
that the length be neither too great nor too small, which 
would render a direct measurement equally impossible. 
The line must also be suitably situated ; for let it be one 
which we could measure with the greatest facility, if it 
were horizontal, but conceive it to be turned, up vertical- 
ly, and it becomes impossible to measure it. 

The difficulties which we have indicated in reference 
to measuring lines, exist in a very much greater degree 
in the measurement of surfaces, volumes, velocities, times, 
forces, &c. It is this fact which makes necessary the 
formation of mathematical science, as we are going to 
see ; for the human mind has been compelled to re- 
nounce, in almost all cases, the direct measurement of 
magnitudes, and to seek .to determine them indirectly, 
and it is thus that it has been led to the creation of 

General Method. The general method which is con- 
stantly employed, and evidently the only one conceiva- 
ble, to ascertain magnitudes which do not admit of a di- 
rect measurement, consists in connecting them with oth- 
ers which are susceptible of being determined immediate- 
ly, and by means of which we succeed in discovering 
the first through the relations which subsist between 
the two. Such is the precise object of mathematical 
science viewed as a whole. In order to form a suffi- 
ciently extended idea of it, we must consider that this 
indirect determination of magnitudes may be indirect in 
very different degrees. In a great number of cases, 
which are often the most important, the magnitudes, by 
means of which the principal magnitudes sought are to 
be determined, cannot themselves be measured directly, 


and must therefore, in their turn, become the subject of a 
similar question, and so on ; so that on many occasions 
the human mind is obliged to establish a long series of 
intermediates between the system of unknown magni- 
tudes which are the final objects of its researches, and 
the system of magnitudes susceptible of direct measure- 
ment, by whose means we finally determine the first, 
with which at first they appear to have no connexion. 

Illustrations. Some examples will make clear any 
thing which may seem too abstract in the preceding 

1. Falling Bodies. Let us consider, in the first place, 
a natural phenomenon, very simple, indeed, but which 
may nevertheless give rise to a mathematical question, 
really existing, and susceptible of actual applications 
the phenomenon of the vertical fall of heavy bodies. 

The mind the most unused to mathematical concep- 
tions, in observing this phenomenon, perceives at once 
that the two quantities which it presents namely, the 
height from which a body has fallen, and the time of its 
fall are necessarily connected with each other, since they 
vary together, and simultaneously remain fixed ; or, in 
the language of geometers, that they are "functions" of 
each other. The phenomenon, considered under this 
point of view, gives rise then to a mathematical ques- 
tion, which consists in substituting for the direct meas- 
urement of one of these two magnitudes, when it is im- 
possible, the measurement of the other. It is thus, for 
example, that we may determine indirectly the depth of 
a precipice, by merely measuring the time that a heavy 
body would occupy in falling to its bottom, and by suit- 
able procedures this inaccessible depth will be known 


with as much precision as if it was a horizontal line 
placed in the most favourable circumstances for easy and 
exact measurement. On other occasions it is the height 
from which a body has fallen which it will be easy to as- 
certain, while the time of the fall could not be observed 
directly ; then the same phenomenon would give rise to 
the inverse question, namely, to determine the time from 
the height ; as, for example, if we wished to ascertain 
what would be the duration of the vertical fall of a body 
falling from the moon to the earth. 

In this example the mathematical question is very sim 
pie, at least when we do not pay attention to the variation 
in the intensity of gravity, or the resistance of the fluid 
which the body passes through in its fall. But, to ex- 
tend the question, we have only to consider the same 
phenomenon in its greatest generality, in supposing the 
fall oblique, and in taking into the account all the prin- 
cipal circumstances. Then, instead of offering simply 
two variable quantities connected with each other by a 
relation easy to follow, the phenomenon will present a 
much greater number ; namely, the space traversed, 
whether in a vertical or horizontal direction ; the time 
employed in traversing it ; the velocity of the body at 
each point of its course ; even the intensity and the 
direction of its primitive impulse, which may also be 
viewed as variables ; and finally, in certain cases (to 
take every thing into the account), the resistance of the 
medium and the intensity of gravity. All these different 
quantities will be connected with one another, in such a 
way that each in its turn may be indirectly determined 
by means of the others ; and this will present as many 
distinct mathematical questions as there may be co-exist- 


ing magnitudes in the phenomenon under consideration. 
Such a very slight change in the physical conditions of 
a problem may cause (as in the above example) a mathe- 
matical research, at first very elementary, to be placed at 
once in the rank of the most difficult questions, whose 
complete and rigorous solution surpasses as yet the ut- 
most power of the human intellect. 

2. Inaccessible Distances. Let us take a second ex- 
ample from geometrical phenomena. Let it be proposed 
to determine a distance which is not susceptible of direct 
measurement ; it will be generally conceived as making 
part of a figure^ or certain system of lines, chosen in 
such a way that all its other parts may be observed di- 
rectly ; thus, in the case which is most simple, and to 
which all the others may be finally reduced, the pro- 
posed distance will be considered as belonging to a trian- 
gle, in which we can determine directly either another 
side and two angles, or two sides and one angle. Thence- 
forward, the knowledge of the desired distance, instead 
of being obtained directly, will be the result of a math- 
ematical calculation, which will consist in deducing it 
from the observed elements by means of the relation 
which connects it with them. This calculation will be- 
come successively more and more complicated, if the parts 
which we have supposed to be known cannot themselves 
be determined (as is most frequently the case) except in 
an indirect manner, by the aid of new auxiliary systems, 
the number of which, in great operations of this kind, 
finally becomes very considerable. The distance being 
once determined, the knowledge of it will frequently be 
sufficient for obtaining new quantities, which will become 
the subject of new mathematical questions. Thus, when 


we know at what distance any object is situated, the 
simple observation of its apparent diameter will evident- 
ly permit us to determine indirectly its real dimensions, 
however inaccessible it may be, and, by a series of an- 
alogous investigations, its surface, its volume, even its 
weight, and a number of other properties, a knowledge 
of which seemed forbidden to us. 

3. Astronomical Facts. It is by such calculations 
that man has been able to ascertain, not only the dis- 
tances from the planets to the earth, and, consequently, 
from each other, but their actual magnitude, their true 
figure, even to the inequalities of their surface ; and, what 
seemed still more completely hidden from us, their re- 
spective masses, their mean densities, the principal cir- 
cumstances of the fair of heavy bodies on the surface of 
each of them, &c. 

By the power of mathematical theories, all these dif- 
ferent results, and many others relative to the different 
classes of mathematical phenomena, have required no 
other direct measurements than those of a very small 
number of straight lines, suitably chosen, and of a great- 
er number of angles. We may even say, with perfect 
truth, so as to indicate in a word the general range of 
the science, that if we did not fear to multiply calcula- 
tions unnecessarily, and if we had not, in consequence, 
to reserve them for the determination of the quantities 
which could not be measured directly, the determina- 
tion of all the magnitudes susceptible of precise estima- 
tion, which the various orders of phenomena can offer us, 
could be finally reduced to the direct measurement of a 
single straight line and of a suitable number of angles. 



We are now able to define mathematical science with 
precision, by assigning to it as its object the indirect 
measurement of magnitudes, and by saying it constantly 
proposes to determine certain magnitudes from others 
by means of the precise relations existing between them. 

This enunciation, instead of giving the idea of only an 
art, as do all the ordinary definitions, characterizes im- 
mediately a true science, and shows it at once to be com- 
posed of an immense chain of intellectual operations, 
which may evidently become very complicated, because 
of the series of intermediate links which it will be neces- 
sary to establish between the unknown quantities and 
those which admit of a direct measurement ; of the num- 
ber of variables coexistent in the proposed question ; and 
of the nature of the relations between all these different 
magnitudes furnished by the phenomena under consid- 
eration. According to such a definition, the spirit of 
mathematics consists in always regarding all the quan- 
tities which any phenomenon can present, as connected 
and interwoven with one another, with the view of de- 
ducing them from one another. Now there is evidently 
no phenomenon which cannot give rise to considerations 
of this kind ; whence results the naturally indefinite ex- 
tent and even the rigorous logical universality of math- 
ematical science. We shall seek farther on to circum- 
scribe as exactly as possible its real extension. 

The preceding explanations establish clearly the pro- 
priety of the name employed to designate the science 
which we are considering. This denomination, which 
has taken to-day so definite a meaning by itself signifies 


simply science in general. Such a designation, rigor- 
ously exact for the Greeks, who had no other real sci- 
ence, could be retained by the moderns only to indicate 
the mathematics as the science, beyond all others the 
science of sciences. 

Indeed, every true science has for its object the de- 
termination of certain phenomena by means of others, in 
accordance with the relations which exist between them. 
Every science consists in the co-ordination of facts ; if 
the different observations were entirely isolated, there 
would be no science. We may even say, in general terms, 
that science is essentially destined to dispense, so far as 
the different phenomena permit it, with all direct ob- 
servation, by enabling us to deduce from the smallest 
possible number of immediate data the greatest possible 
number of results. Is not this the real use, whether in 
speculation or in action, of the laws which we succeed 
in discovering among natural phenomena ? Mathemat- 
ical science, in this point of view, merely pushes to the 
highest possible degree the same kind of researches which 
are pursued, in degrees more or less inferior, by every 
real science in its respective sphere. 


We have thus far viewed mathematical science only 
as a whole, without paying any regard to its divisions. 
We must now, in order to complete this general view, 
and to form a just idea of the philosophical character of 
the science, consider its fundamental division. The sec- 
ondary divisions will be examined in the following chap- 

This principal division, which we are about to investi- 


gate, can be truly rational, and derived from the real na- 
ture of the subject, only so far as it spontaneously pre- 
sents itself to us, in making the exact analysis of a com- 
plete mathematical question. We will, therefore, hav- 
ing determined above what is the general object of math- 
ematical labours, now characterize with precision the 
principal different orders of inquiries, of which they are 
constantly composed. 

Their different Objects. The complete solution of 
every mathematical question divides itself necessarily 
into two parts, of natures essentially distinct, and with 
relations invariably determinate. We have seen that 
every mathematical inquiry has for its object to deter- 
mine unknown magnitudes, according to the relations be- 
tween them and known magnitudes. Now for this ob- 
ject, it is evidently necessary, in the first place, to as- 
certain with precision the relations which exist between 
the quantities which we are considering. This first 
branch of inquiries constitutes that which I call the con- 
crete part of the solution. When it is finished, the ques- 
tion changes ; it is now reduced to a pure question of 
numbers, consisting simply -in determining unknown 
numbers, when we know what precise relations connect 
them with known numbers. This second branch of in- 
quiries is what I call the abstract part of the solution. 
Hence follows the fundamental division of general math- 
ematical science into two great sciences ABSTRACT MATH- 

This analysis may be observed in every complete 
mathematical question, however simple or complicated 
it may be. A single example will suffice to make it 


Taking up again the phenomenon of the vertical fall 
of a heavy body, and considering the simplest case, we 
see that in order to succeed in determining, by means of 
one another, the height whence the body has fallen, and 
the duration of its fall, we must commence by discovering 
the exact relation of these two quantities, or, to use the 
language of geometers, the equation which exists be- 
tween them. Before this first research is completed, 
every attempt to determine numerically the value of one 
of these two magnitudes from the other would evidently 
be premature, for it would have no basis. It is not enough 
to know vaguely that they depend on one another which 
every one at once perceives but it is necessary to de- 
termine in what this dependence consists. This inquiry 
may be very difficult, and in fact, in the present case, 
constitutes incomparably the greater part of the problem. 
The true scientific spirit is so modern, that no one, per- 
haps, before Galileo, had ever remarked the increase of 
velocity which a body experiences in its fall : a circum- 
stance which excludes the hypothesis, towards which our 
mind (always involuntarily inclined to suppose in every 
phenomenon the most simple functions, without any oth- 
er motive than its greater facility in conceiving them) 
would be naturally led, that the height was proportion- 
al to the time. In a word, this first inquiry terminated 
in the discovery of the law of Galileo. 

When this concrete part is completed, the inquiry be- 
comes one of quite another nature. Knowing that the 
spaces passed through by the body in each successive sec- 
ond of its fall increase as the series of odd numbers, we 
have then a problem purely numerical and abstract ; to 
deduce the height from the time, or the time from the 


height ; and this consists in finding that the first of these 
two quantities, according to the law which has been es- 
tablished, is a known multiple of the second power of the 
other ; from which, finally, we have to calculate the value 
of the one when that of the other is given. 

In this example the concrete question is more difficult 
than the abstract one. The reverse would be the case 
if we considered the same phenomenon in its greatest 
generality, as I have done above for another object. 
According to the circumstances, sometimes the first, 
sometimes the second, of these two parts will constitute 
the principal difficulty of the whole question ; for the 
mathematical law of the phenomenon may be very sim- 
ple, but very difficult to obtain, or it may be easy to dis- 
cover, but very complicated ; so that the two great sec- 
tions of mathematical science, when we compare them 
as wholes, must be regarded as exactly equivalent in ex- 
tent and in difficulty, as well as in importance, as we 
shall show farther on, in considering each of them sep- 

Their different Natures. These two parts, essentially 
distinct in their object, as we have just seen, are no less 
so with regard to the nature of the inquiries of which 
they are composed. 

The first should be called concrete, since it evidently 
depends on the character of the phenomena considered, 
and must necessarily vary when we examine new phe- 
nomena ; while the second is completely independent of 
the nature of the objects examined, and is concerned with 
only the numerical relations which they present, for which 
reason it should be called abstract. The same relations 
may exist in a great number of different phenomena, 


which, in spito of their extreme diversity, will be yiewed 
by the geometer as offering an analytical question sus- 
ceptible, when studied by itself, of being resolved once 
for all. Thus, for instance, the same law which exists 
between the space and the time of the vertical fall of a 
body in a vacuum, is found again in many other phe- 
nomena which offer no analogy with the first nor with 
each other ; for it expresses the relation between the sur- 
face of a spherical body and the length of its diameter ; 
it determines, in like manner, the decrease of the intensity 
of light or of heat in relation to the distance of the ob- 
jects lighted or heated, &c. The abstract part, com- 
mon to these different mathematical questions, having 
been treated in reference to one of these, will thus have 
been treated for all ; while the concrete part will have 
necessarily to be again taken up for each question sep- 
arately, without the solution of any one of them being 
able to give any direct aid, in that connexion, for the so- 
lution of the rest. 

The abstract part of mathematics is, then, general in 
its nature ; the concrete part, special. 

To present this comparison under a new point of view, 
we may say concrete mathematics has a philosophical 
character, which is essentially experimental, physical, 
phenomenal ; while that of abstract mathematics is pure- 
ly logical, rational. The concrete part of every mathe- 
matical question is necessarily founded on the considera- 
tion of the external world, and could never be resolved 
by a simple series of intellectual combinations. The ab- 
stract part, on the contrary, when it has been very com- 
pletely separated, can consist only of a series of logical 
deductions, more or less prolonged ; for if we have once 


found the equations of a phenomenon, the determination 
of the quantities therein considered, by means of one an- 
other, is a matter for reasoning only, whatever the diffi- 
culties may be. It belongs to the understanding alone 
to deduce from these equations results which are evi- 
dently contained in them, although perhaps in a very in- 
volved manner, without there being occasion to consult 
anew the external world ; the consideration of which, 
having become thenceforth foreign to the subject, ought 
even to be carefully set aside in order to reduce the la- 
bour to its true peculiar difficulty. The abstract part 
of mathematics is then purely instrumental, and is only 
an immense and admirable extension of natural logic to a 
certain class of deductions. On the other hand, geome- 
try and mechanics, which, as we shall see presently, con- 
stitute the concrete part, must be viewed as real natu- 
ral sciences, founded on observation, like all the rest, 
although the extreme simplicity of their phenomena per- 
mits an infinitely greater degree of systematization, 
which has sometimes caused a misconception of the ex- 
perimental character of their first principles. 9 

We see, by this brief general comparison, how natural 
and profound is our fundamental division of mathemati- 
cal science. 

We have now to circumscribe, as exactly as we can 
in this first sketch, each of these two great sections. 


Concrete Mathematics having for its object the dis- 
covery of the equations of phenomena, it would seem at 
first that it must be composed of as many distinct sci- 
ences as we find really distinct categories among natural 


phenomena. But we are yet very far from having dis- 
covered mathematical laws in all kinds of phenomena ; 
we shall even see, presently, that the greater part will 
very probably always hide themselves from our investiga- 
tions. In reality, in the present condition of the human 
mind, there are directly but two great general classes of 
phenomena, whose equations we constantly know ; these 
are, firstly, geometrical, and, secondly, mechanical phe- 
nomena. Thus, then, the concrete part of mathematics 

This is sufficient, it is true, to give to it a complete 
character of logical universality, when we consider all 
phenomena from the most elevated point of view of nat- 
ural philosophy. In fact, if all the parts of the universe 
were conceived as immovable, we should evidently have 
only geometrical phenomena to observe, since all would 
be reduced to relations of form, magnitude, and position; 
then, having regard to the motions which take place in it, 
we would have also to consider mechanical phenomena. 
Hence the universe, in the statical point of view, pre- 
sents only f geometrical phenomena; and, considered dy- 
namically, only mechanical phenomena. Thus geometry 
and mechanics constitute the two fundamental natural 
sciences, in this sense, that all natural effects may be con- 
ceived as simple necessary results, either of the laws of 
extension or of the laws of motion. 

But although this conception is always logically pos- 
sible, the difficulty is to specialize it with the necessary 
precision, and to follow it exactly in each of the general 
cases offered to us by the study of nature ; that is, to 
effectually reduce each principal question of natural phi- 
losophy, for a certain determinate order of phenomena, to 


the question of geometry or mechanics, to which we might 
rationally suppose it should be brought. This transform- 
ation, which requires great progress to have been previous- 
ly made in the study of each class of phenomena, has thus 
far been really executed only for those of astronomy, and 
for a part of those considered by terrestrial physics, prop- 
erly so called. It is thus that astronomy, acoustics, op- 
tics, &c., have finally become applications of mathemat- 
ical science to certain orders of observations.^ But these 
applications not being by their nature rigorously circum- 
scribed, to confound them with the science would be to 
assign to it a vague and indefinite domain ; and this is 
done in the usual division, so faulty in so many other 
respects, of the mathematics into "Pure" and "Ap- 


The nature of abstract mathematics (the general divis- 
ion of which will be examined in the following chapter) is 
clearly and exactly determined. It is composed of what is 
called the Calculus,^ taking this word in its greatest ex- 
tent, which reaches from the most simple numerical ope- 
rations to the most sublime combinations of transcendental 
analysis. The Calculus has the solution of all questions 

* The investigation of the mathematical phenomena of the laws of heat 
by Baron Fourier has led to the establishment, in an entirely direct manner, 
of Thermological equations. This great discovery tends to elevate our phil- 
osophical hopes as to the future extensions of the legitimate applications of 
mathematical analysis, and renders it proper, in the opinion of the author, 
to regard Thermology as a third principal branch of concrete mathematics. 

t The translator has felt justified in employing this very convenient word 
(for which our language has no precise equivalent) as an English one, in its 
most extended sense, in spite of its being often popularly confounded with 
its Differential and Integral department. 



relating to numbers for its peculiar object. Its starting 
point is, constantly and necessarily, the knowledge of the 
precise relations, i. e., of the equations, between the dif- 
ferent magnitudes which are simultaneously considered ; 
that which is, on the contrary, the stopping- point of con- 
crete mathematics. However complicated, or however in- 
direct these relations may be, the final object of the cal- 
culus always is to obtain from them the values of the un- 
known quantities by means of those which are known. 
This science, although nearer perfection than any other, 
is really little advanced as yet, so that this object is rare- 
ly attained in a manner completely satisfactory. 

Mathematical analysis is, then, the true rational basis 
of the entire system of our actual knowledge. It con- 
stitutes the first and the most perfect of all the funda- 
mental sciences. The ideas with which it occupies it- 
self are the most universal, the most abstract, and the 
most simple which it is possible for us to conceive. 

This peculiar nature of mathematical analysis enables 
us easily to explain why, when it is properly employed, 
it is such a powerful instrument, not only to give more 
precision to our real knowledge, which is self-evident, but 
especially to establish an infinitely more perfect co-ordi- 
nation in the study of the phenomena which admit of 
that application ; for, our conceptions having been so 
generalized and simplified that a single analytical ques- 
tion, abstractly resolved, contains the implicit solution 
of a great number of diverse physical questions, the hu- 
man mind must necessarily acquire by these means a 
greater facility in perceiving relations between phenom- 
ena which at first appeared entirely distinct from one 
another. We thus naturally see arise, through the me- 


dium of analysis, the most frequent and the most unex- 
pected approximations between problems which at first 
offered no apparent connection, and which we often end 
in viewing as identical. Could we, for example, with- 
out the aid of analysis, perceive the least resemblance 
between the determination of the direction of a curve at 
each of its points and that of the velocity acquired by a 
body at every instant of its variable motion ? and yet 
these questions, however different they may be, compose 
but one in the eyes of the geometer. 

The high relative perfection of mathematical analysis 
is as easily perceptible. This perfection is not due, as 
some have thought, to the nature of the signs which are 
employed as instruments of reasoning, eminently concise 
and general as they are. In reality, all great analytical 
ideas have been formed without the algebraic signs hav- 
ing been of any essential aid, except for working them 
out after the mind had conceived them. The superior 
perfection of the science of the calculus is due princi- 
pally to the extreme simplicity of the ideas which it con- 
siders, by whatever signs they may be expressed ; so that 
there is not the least hope, by any artifice of scientific 
language, of perfecting to the same degree theories which 
refer to more complex subjects, and which are necessarily 
condemned by their nature to a greater or less logical in- 


Our examination of the philosophical character of math- 
ematical science would remain incomplete, if, after hav- 
ing viewed its object and composition, we did not exam- 
ine the real extent of its domain. 


Its Universality. For this purpose it is indispensa- 
ble to perceive, first of all, that, in the purely logical 
point of view, this science is by itself necessarily and 
rigorously universal ; for there is no question whatever 
which may not be finally conceived as consisting in de- 
termining certain quantities from others by means of cer- 
tain relations, and consequently as admitting of reduc- 
tion, in final analysis, to a simple question of numbers. 
In all our researches, indeed, on whatever subject, our 
object is to arrive at numbers, at quantities, though often 
in a very imperfect manner and by very uncertain meth- 
ods. Thus, taking an example in the class of subjects 
the least accessible to mathematics, the phenomena of 
living bodies, even when considered (to take the most 
complicated case) in the state of disease, is it not mani- 
fest that all the questions of therapeutics may be viewed 
as consisting in determining the quantities of the differ- 
ent agents which modify the organism, and which must 
act upon it to bring it to its normal state, admitting, for 
some of these quantities in certain cases, values which 
are equal to zero, or negative, or even contradictory ? 

The fundamental idea of Descartes on the relation of 
the concrete to the abstract in mathematics, has proven, 
in opposition to the superficial distinction of metaphys- 
ics, that all ideas of quality may be reduced to those of 
quantity. This conception, established at first by its 
immortal author in relation to geometrical phenomena 
only, has since been effectually extended to mechanical 
phenomena, and in our days to those of heat. As a re- 
sult of this gradual generalization, there are now no ge- 
ometers who do not consider it, in a purely theoretical 
sense, as capable of being applied to all our real ideas of 


every sort, so that every phenomenon is logically suscep- 
tible of being represented by an equation ; as much so, 
indeed, as is a curve or a motion, excepting the diffi- 
sulty of discovering it, and then of resolving it, which 
may be, and oftentimes are, superior to the greatest pow- 
ers of the human mind. 

Its Limitations. Important as it is to comprehend 
the rigorous universality, in a logical point of view, of 
mathematical science, it is no less indispensable to con- 
sider now the great real limitations, which, through the 
feebleness of our intellect, narrow in a remarkable de- 
gree its actual domain, in proportion as phenomena, in 
becoming special, become complicated. 

Every question may be conceived as capable of being 
reduced to a pure question of numbers ; but the diffi- 
culty of effecting such a transformation increases so much 
with the complication of the phenomena of natural phi- 
losophy, that it soon becomes insurmountable. 

This will be easily seen, if we consider that to bring 
a question within the field of mathematical analysis, we 
must first have discovered the precise relations which ex- 
ist between the quantities which are found in the phe- 
nomenon under examination, the establishment of these 
equations being the necessary starting point of all ana- 
lytical labours. This must evidently be so much the 
more difficult as we have to do with phenomena which 
are more special, and therefore more complicated. We 
shall thus find that it is only in inorganic physics, at 
the most, that we can justly hope ever to obtain that 
high degree of scientific perfection. 

The first condition which is necessary in order that 
phenomena may admit of mathematical laws, susceptible 



of being discovered, evidently is, that their different quan- 
tities should admit of being expressed by fixed numbers. 
We soon find that in this respect the whole of organic 
physics, and probably also the most complicated parts of 
inorganic physics, are necessarily inaccessible, by their 
nature, to our mathematical analysis, by reason of the 
extreme numerical variability of the corresponding phe- 
nomena. Every precise idea of fixed numbers is truly 
out of place in the phenomena of living bodies, when we 
wish to employ it otherwise than as a means of relieving 
the attention, and when we attach any importance to the 
exact relations of the values assigned. 

We ought not, however, on this account, to cease to 
conceive all phenomena as being necessarily subject to 
mathematical laws, which we are condemned to be igno- 
rant of, only because of the too great complication of the 
phenomena. The most complex phenomena of living 
bodies are doubtless essentially of no other special nature 
than the simplest phenomena of unorganized matter. If 
it were possible to isolate rigorously each of the simple 
causes which concur in producing a single physiological 
phenomenon, every thing leads us to believe that it would 
show itself endowed, in determinate circumstances, with 
a kind of influence and with a quantity of action as ex- 
actly fixed as we see it in universal gravitation, a veri- 
table type of the fundamental laws of nature. 

There is a second reason why we cannot bring compli- 
cated phenomena under the dominion of mathematical 
analysis. Even if we could ascertain the mathematical 
law which governs each agent, taken by itself, the com- 
bination of so great a number of conditions would render 
the corresponding mathematical problem so far above our 


feeble means, that the question would remain in most 
cases incapable of solution. 

To appreciate this difficulty, let us consider how com- 
plicated mathematical questions become, even those relat- 
ing to the most simple phenomena of unorganized bodies, 
when we desire to bring sufficiently near together the ab- 
stract and the concrete state, having regard to all the 
principal conditions which can exercise a real influence 
over the effect produced. We know, for example, that 
the very simple phenomenon of the flow of a fluid through 
a given orifice, by virtue of its gravity alone, has not as 
yet any complete mathematical solution, when we take 
into the account all the essential circumstances. It is 
the same even with the still more simple motion of a 
solid projectile in a resisting medium. 

Why has mathematical analysis been able to adapt itself 
with such admirable success to the most profound study 
of celestial phenomena? Because they are, in spite of 
popular appearances, much more simple than any others. 
The most complicated problem which they present, that 
of the modification produced in the motions of two bodies 
tending towards each other by virtue of their gravitation, 
by the influence of a third body acting on both of them 
in the same manner, is much less complex than the most 
simple terrestrial problem. And, nevertheless, even it 
presents difficulties so great that we yet possess only 
approximate solutions of it. It is even easy to see that 
the high perfection to which solar astronomy has been 
able to elevate itself by the employment of mathematical 
science is, besides, essentially due to our having skilfully 
profited by all the particular, and, so to say, accidental 
facilities presented by the peculiarly favourable consti- 



tution of our planetary system. The planets which com- 
pose it are quite few in number, and their masses are in 
general very unequal, and much less than that of the 
sun ; they are, besides, very distant from one another ; 
they have forms almost spherical ; their orbits are nearly 
circular, and only slightly inclined to each other, and so 
on. It results from all these circumstances that the per- 
turbations are generally inconsiderable, and that to cal- 
culate them it is usually sufficient to take into the ac- 
count, in connexion with the action of the sun on each 
particular planet, the influence of only one other planet, 
capable, by its size and its proximity, of causing percept- 
ible derangements. 

If, however, instead of such a state of things, our so- 
lar system had been composed of a greater number of 
planets concentrated into a less space, and nearly equal 
in mass; if their orbits had presented very different in- 
clinations, and considerable eccentricities ; if these bodies 
had been of a more complicated form, such as very ec- 
centric ellipsoids, it is certain that, supposing the same 
law of gravitation to exist, we should not yet have suc- 
ceeded in subjecting the study of the celestial phenome- 
na to our mathematical analysis, and probably we should 
not even have been able to disentangle the present prin- 
cipal law. 

These hypothetical conditions would find themselves 
exactly realized in the highest degree in chemical phe- 
nomena, if we attempted to calculate them by the theory 
of general gravitation. 

On properly weighing the preceding considerations, 
the reader will be convinced, I think, that in reducing 
the future extension of the great applications of mathe- 


matical analysis, which are really possible, to the field 
comprised in the different departments of inorganic phys- 
ics, I have rather exaggerated than contracted the ex- 
tent of its actual domain. Important as it was to ren- 
der apparent the rigorous logical universality of mathe- 
matical science, it was equally so to indicate the condi- 
tions which limit for us its real extension, so as not to 
contribute to lead the human mind astray from the true 
scientific direction in the study of the most complicated 
phenomena, by the chimerical search after an impossible 

Having thus exhibited the essential object and the 
principal composition of mathematical science, as well as 
its general relations with the whole body of natural phi- 
losophy, we have now to pass to the special examination 
of the great sciences of which it is composed. 

ANALYSIS and GEOMETRY are the two great heads under which 
the subject is about to be examined. To these M. Comte adds Rational 
MECHANICS ; but as it is not comprised in the usual idea of Mathematics, 
and as its discussion would be of but limited utility and interest, it is not 
included in the present translation. 






IN the historical development of mathematical science 
since the time of Descartes, the advances of its abstract 
portion have always been determined by those of its con- 
crete portion ; but it is none the less necessary, in or- 
der to conceive the science in a manner truly logical, to 
consider the Calculus in all its principal branches before 
proceeding to the philosophical study of Geometry and 
Mechanics. Its analytical theories, more simple and 
more general than those of concrete mathematics, are in 
themselves essentially independent of the latter ; while 
these, on the contrary, have, by their nature, a continual 
need of the former, without the aid of which they could 
make scarcely any progress. Although the principal 
conceptions of analysis retain at present some very per- 
ceptible traces of their geometrical or mechanical origin, 
they are now, however, mainly freed from that primitive 
character, which no longer manifests itself except in some 
secondary points ; so that it is possible (especially since 
the labours of Lagrange) to present them in a dogmatic 
exposition, by a purely abstract method, in a single and 


continuous system. It is this which will be undertaken 
in the present and the five following chapters, limiting our 
investigations to the most general considerations upon 
each principal branch of the science of the calculus. 

The definite object of our researches in concrete math- 
ematics being the discovery of the equations which ex- 
press the mathematical laws of the phenomenon under 
consideration, and these equations constituting the true 
starting point of the calculus, which has for its object 
to obtain from them the determination of certain quan- 
tities by means of others, I think it indispensable, be 
fore proceeding any farther, to go more deeply than has 
been customary into that fundamental idea of equation, 
the continual subject, either as end .or as beginning, of 
all mathematical labours. Besides the advantage of cir- 
cumscribing more definitely the true field of analysis, 
there will result from it the important consequence of 
tracing in a more exact manner the real line of demar- 
cation between the concrete and the abstract part of 
mathematics, which will complete the general exposition 
of the fundamental division established in the introduc- 
tory chapter. 


We usually form much too vague an idea of what an 
equation is, when we give that name to every kind of 
relation of equality between any two functions of the 
magnitudes which we are considering. For, though ev- 
ery equation is evidently a relation of equality, it is far 
from being true that, reciprocally, every relation of equal- 
ity is a veritable equation, of the kind of those to which, 
by their nature, the methods of analysis are applicable. 


This want of precision in the logical consideration of 
an idea which is so fundamental in mathematics, brings 
with it the serious inconvenience of rendering it almost 
impossible to explain, in general terms, the great and 
fundamental difficulty which we find in establishing the 
relation between the concrete and the abstract, and which 
stands out so prominently in each great mathematical 
question taken by itself. If the meaning of the word 
equation was truly as extended as we habitually suppose 
it to be in our definition of it, it is not apparent what 
great difficulty there could really be, in general, in estab- 
lishing the equations of any problem whatsoever ; for the 
whole would thus appear to consist in a simple question 
of form, which ought never even to exact any great in- 
tellectual efforts, seeing that we can hardly conceive of 
any precise relation which is not immediately a. certain 
relation of equality, or which cannot be readily brought 
thereto by some very easy transformations. 

Thus, when we admit every species of functions into 
the definition of equations, we do not at all account for 
the extreme difficulty which we almost always experi- 
ence in putting a problem into an equation, and which 
so often may be compared to the efforts required by the 
analytical elaboration of the equation when once obtain- 
ed. In a word, the ordinary abstract and general idea 
of an equation does not at all correspond to the real 
meaning which geometers attach to that expression in 
the actual development of the science. Here, then, is a 
logical fault, a defect of correlation, which it is very im- 
portant to rectify. 

Division of Functions into Abstract and Concrete. 
To succeed in doing so, I begin by distinguishing two 


sorts of functions, abstract or analytical functions, and 
concrete functions. The first alone can enter into ver- 
itable equations. We may, therefore, henceforth define 
every equation, in an exact and sufficiently profound man- 
ner, as a relation of equality between two abstract func- 
tions of the magnitudes under consideration. In order not 
to have to return again to this fundamental definition, I 
must add here, as an indispensable complement, without 
which the idea would not be sufficiently general, that 
these abstract functions may refer not only to the mag- 
nitudes which the problem presents of itself, but also to 
all the other auxiliary magnitudes which are connected 
with it, and which we will often be able to introduce, 
simply as a mathematical artifice, with the sole object 
of facilitating the discovery of the equations of the phe- 
nomena. I here anticipate summarily the result of a 
general discussion of the highest importance, which will 
be found at the end of this chapter. We will now re- 
turn to the essential distinction of functions as abstract 
and concrete. 

This distinction may be established in two ways, es- 
sentially different, but complementary of each other, a 
priori and a posteriori ; that is to say, by characteriz- 
ing in a general manner the peculiar nature of each spe- 
cies of functions, and then by making the actual enu- 
meration of all the abstract functions at present known, 
at least so far as relates to the elements of which they 
are composed. 

A priori, the functions which I call abstract are those 
which express a manner of dependence between magni- 
tudes, which can be conceived between numbers alone, 
without there being need of indicating any phenomenon 


whatever in which it is realized. I name, on the other 
hand, concrete functions, those for which the mode of de- 
pendence expressed cannot be defined or conceived except 
by assigning a determinate case of physics, geometry, me- 
chanics, &c., in which it actually exists. 

Most functions in their origin, even those which are 
at present the most purely abstract, have begun by be- 
ing concrete ; so that it is easy to make the preceding 
distinction understood, by citing only the successive dif- 
ferent points of view under which, in proportion as the 
science has become formed, geometers have considered 
the most simple analytical functions. I will indicate 
powers, for example, which have in general become ab- 
stract functions only since the labours of Vieta and Des- 
cartes. The functions x 2 , x 3 , which in our present anal- 
ysis are so well conceived as simply abstract, were, for 
the geometers of antiquity, perfectly concrete functions, 
expressing the relation of the superficies of a square, or 
the volume of a cube to the length of their side. These 
had in their eyes such a character so exclusively, that 
it was only by means of the geometrical definitions that 
they discovered the elementary algebraic properties of 
these functions, relating to the decomposition of the 
variable into two parts, properties which were at that 
epoch only real theorems of geometry, to which a nu- 
merical meaning was not attached until long after- 

I shall have occasion to cite presently, for another rea- 
son, a new example, very suitable to make apparent the 
fundamental distinction which I have just exhibited ; it 
is that of circular functions, both direct and inverse, which 
at the present time are still sometimes concrete, some- 



times abstract, according to the point of view under which 
they are regarded. 

A posteriori, the general character which renders a 
function abstract or concrete having been established, the 
question as to whether a certain determinate function is 
veritably abstract, and therefore susceptible of entering 
: nto true analytical equations, becomes a simple question 
->f fact, inasmuch as we are going to enumerate all the 
functions of this species. 

Enumeration of Abstract Functions. At first view 
this enumeration seems impossible, the distinct analyt- 
ical functions being infinite in number. But when we 
divide them into simple and compound, the difficulty dis- 
appears ; for, though the number of the different func- 
tions considered in mathematical analysis is really infi- 
nite, they are, on the contrary, even at the present day, 
composed of a very small number of elementary functions, 
which can be easily assigned, and which are evidently 
ufficient for deciding the abstract or concrete character 
>f any given function ; which will be of the one or the 
other nature, according as it shall be composed exclusive- 
ly of these simple abstract functions, or as it shall in- 
clude others. 

We evidently have to consider, for this purpose, only 
.he functions of a single variable, since those relative 
to several independent variables are constantly, by their 
nature, more or less compound. 

Let x be the independent variable, y the correlative 
variable which depends upon it. The different simple 
modes of abstract dependence, which we can now conceive 
between y and x, are expressed by the ten following el- 
ementary formulas, in which each function is coupled 


with its inverse, that is, with that which would be ob- 
tained from the direct function by referring x to y, in- 
stead of referring y to x. 


( 1 y=a+x Sum. 

1st couple < _ 

( 2 y=ax Difference. 

( 1 y=ax Product. 

2d couple < O o a r\ 4- 

) 2 y=- Quotient. 

( x 

( 1 y=x" Power. 

3d couple < _ 

1 2 y=Vx Root. 

( 1 y=a? Exponential. 

4th couple < rtQ 

( 2 y=lx Logarithmic. 

( 1 v=sin. x Direct Circular. 

oth couple < 

( 2 #=arc(sm. x\ . Inverse Circular.* 

Such are the elements, very few in number, which di- 
rectly compose all the abstract functions known at the 
present day. Few as they are, they are evidently suf- 
ficient to give rise to an infinite number of analytical 

* With the view of increasing as much as possible the resources and the 
extent (now so insufficient) of mathematical analysis, geometers count this 
iast couple of functions among the analytical elements. Although this in- 
scription is strictly legitimate, it is important to remark that circular func- 
tions are not exactly in the same situation as the other abstract elementary 
functions. There is this very essential difference, that the functions of the 
four first couples are at the same time simple and abstract, while the circu- 
lar functions, which may manifest each character in succession, according 
to the point of view under which they are considered and the manner in 
which they are employed, never present these two properties simultane- 

Some other concrete functions may be usefully introduced into the num- 
ber of analytical elements, certain conditions being fulfilled. It is thus, for 
example, that the labours of M. Legendre and of M. Jacobi on elliptical 
functions have truly enlarged the field of analysis ; and the same is true of 
some definite integrals obtained by M. Fourier in the theory of heat. 


No rational consideration rigorously circumscribes, a 
priori, the preceding table, which is only the actual ex- 
pression of the present state of the science. Our ana- 
lytical elements are at the present day more numerous 
than they were for Descartes, and even for Newton and 
Leibnitz : it is only a century since the last two couples 
have been introduced into analysis by the labours of John 
Bernouilli and Euler. Doubtless new ones will be here- 
after admitted ; but, as I shall show towards the end of 
this chapter, we cannot hope that they will ever be great- 
ly multiplied, their real augmentation giving rise to very 
great difficulties. 

We can now form a definite, and, at the same time, 
sufficiently extended idea of what geometers understand 
by a veritable equation. This explanation is especially 
suited to make us understand how difficult it must be 
really to establish the equations of phenomena, since, we 
have effectually succeeded in so doing only when we 
have been able to conceive the mathematical laws of 
these phenomena by the aid of functions entirely com- 
posed of only the mathematical elements which I have 
just enumerated. It is clear, in fact, that it is then 
only that the problem becomes truly abstract, and is re- 
duced to a pure question of numbers, these functions 
being the only simple relations which we can conceive 
between numbers, considered by themselves. Up to this 
period of the solution, whatever the appearances may be, 
the question is still essentially concrete, and does not come 
within the> domain of the calculus. Now the fundamen- 
tal difficulty of this passage from the concrete to the ab- 
stract in general consists especially in the insufficiency 
of this very small number of analytical elements which 


we possess, and by means of which, nevertheless, in spite 
of the little real variety which they offer us, we must 
succeed in representing all the precise relations which 
all the different natural phenomena can manifest to us. 
Considering the infinite diversity which must necessa- 
rily exist in this respect in the external world, we easily 
understand how far below the true difficulty our con- 
ceptions must frequently be found, especially if we add 
that as these elements of our analysis have been in the 
first place furnished to us by the mathematical consid- 
eration of the simplest phenomena, we have, a priori, no 
rational guarantee of their necessary suitableness to rep- 
resent the mathematical law of. every other class of phe- 
nomena. I will explain presently the general artifice, so 
profoundly ingenious, by which the human mind has suc- 
ceeded in diminishing, in a remarkable degree, this fun- 
damental difficulty which is presented by the relation of 
the concrete to the abstract in mathematics, without, 
however, its having been necessary to multiply the num- 
ber of these analytical elements. * 


The preceding explanations determine with precision 
the true object and the real field of abstract mathemat- 
ics. I must now pass to the examination of its princi- 
pal divisions, for thus far we have considered the calcu- 
lus as a whole. 

The first direct consideration to be presented on the 
composition of the science of the calculus consists in di- 
viding it, in the first place, into two principal branches, 
to which, for want of more suitable denominations, I will 
give the names of Algebraic calculus, or Algebra, and of 


Arithmetical calculus, or Arithmetic ; but with the cau- 
tion to take these two expressions in their most extended 
logical acceptation, in the place of the by far too restrict- 
ed meaning which is usually attached to them. 

The complete solution of every question of the calcu- 
lus, from the most elementary up to the most transcend- 
ental, is necessarily composed of two successive parts, 
whose nature is essentially distinct. In the first, the ob- 
ject is to transform the proposed equations, so as to make 
apparent the manner in which the unknown quantities 
are formed by the known ones : it is this which consti- 
tutes the algebraic question. In the second, our object 
is to find the values of the formulas thus obtained ; that 
is, to determine directly the values of the numbers sought, 
which are already represented by certain explicit func- 
tions of given numbers : this is the arithmetical ques- 
tion.* 1 It is apparent that, in every solution which is 

* Suppose, for example, that a question gives the following equation be- 
tween an unknown magnitude x, and two known magnitudes, a and b, 

x s +3ax=2b, 

as is the case in the problem of the trisection of an angle. We see at once 
that the dependence between x on the one side, and db on the other, is 
completely determined ; but, so long as the equation preserves its primitive 
form, we do not at all perceive in what manner the unknown quantity is 
derived from the data. This must be discovered, however, before we can 
think of determining its value. Such is the object of the algebraic part of 
the solution. When, by a series of transformations which have successively 
rendered that derivation more and more apparent, we have arrived at pre- 
senting the proposed equation under the form 

the work of algebra is finished ; and even if we could not perform the arith- 
metical operations indicated by that formula, we would nevertheless have 
obtained a knowledge very real, and often very important. The work of 
arithmetic will now consist in taking that formula for its starting point, and 
finding the number x when the values of the numbers a and b are given. 


truly rational, it necessarily follows the algebraical ques- 
tion, of which it forms the indispensable complement, 
since it is evidently necessary to know the mode of gener- 
ation of the numbers sought for before determining their 
actual values for each particular case. Thus the stop- 
ping-place of the algebraic part of the solution becomes 
the starting point of the arithmetical part. 

We thus see that the algebraic calculus and the arith- 
metical calculus differ essentially in their object. They 
differ no less in the point of view under which they regard 
quantities ; which are considered in the first as to their 
relations, and in the second as to their values. The 
true spirit of the calculus, in general, requires this dis- 
tinction to be maintained with the most severe exacti- 
tude, and the line of demarcation between the two peri- 
ods of the solution to be rendered as clear and distinct 
as the proposed question permits. The attentive obser- 
vation of this precept, which is too much neglected, may 
be of much assistance, in each particular question, in di- 
recting the efforts of our mind, at any moment of the 
solution, towards the real corresponding difficulty. In 
truth, the imperfection of the science of the calculus 
obliges us very often (as will be explained in the next 
chapter) to intermingle algebraic and arithmetical consid- 
erations in the solution of the same question. But, how- 
ever impossible it may be to separate clearly the two parts 
of the labour, yet the preceding indications will always 
enable us to avoid confounding them. 

In endeavouring to sum up as succinctly as possible 
the distinction just established, we see that ALGEBRA 
may be defined, in general, as having for its object the 
resolution of equations ; taking this expression in its 


full logical meaning, which signifies the transformation 
of implicit functions into equivalent explicit ones. In 
the same way, ARITHMETIC may be denned as destined 
to the determination of the values of functions. Hence- 
forth, therefore, we will briefly say that ALGEBRA is the 
Calculus of Functions, and ARITHMETIC the Calculus of 

We can now perceive how insufficient and even erro- 
neous are the ordinary definitions. Most generally, the 
exaggerated importance attributed to Signs has led to the 
distinguishing the two fundamental branches of the sci- 
ence of the Calculus by the manner of designating in 
each the subjects of discussion, an idea which is evident- 
ly absurd in principle and false in fact. Even the cele- 
brated definition given by Newton, characterizing Alge- 
bra as Universal Arithmetic, gives certainly a very false 
idea of the nature of algebra and of that of arithmetic.^ 

Having thus established the fundamental division of 
the calculus into two principal branches, I have now to 
compare in general terms the extent, the importance, and 
the difficulty of these two sorts of calculus, so as to have 
hereafter to consider only the Calculus of Functions, 
which is to be the principal subject of our study. 

* I have thought that I ought to specially notice this definition, because 
it serves as the basis of the opinion which many intelligent persons, unac 
quainted with mathematical science, form of its abstract part, without con 
sidering that at the time of this definition mathematical analysis was not 
sufficiently developed to Enable the general character of each of its princi- 
pal parts to be properly apprehended, which explains why Newton could 
at that time propose a definition which at the present day he would cer- 
tainly reject. 



Its Extent. The Calculus of Values, or Arithmetic, 
would appear, at first view, to present a field as vast as 
that of algebra, since it would seem to admit as many 
distinct questions as we can conceive different algebraic 
formulas whose values are to be determined. But a very 
simple reflection will show the difference. Dividing func- 
tions into simple and compound, it is evident that when 
we know how to determine the value of simple functions, 
the consideration of compound functions will no longer 
present any difficulty. In the algebraic point of view, 
a compound function plays a very different part from that 
of the elementary functions of which it consists, and from 
this, indeed, proceed all the principal difficulties of analy- 
sis. But it is very different with the Arithmetical Cal- 
culus. Thus the number of truly distinct arithmetical 
operations is only that determined by the number of the 
elementary abstract functions, the very limited list of 
which has been given above. The determination of the 
values of these ten functions necessarily gives that of all 
the functions, infinite in number, which are considered 
in the whole of mathematical analysis, such at least as 
it exists at present. There can be no new arithmetical 
operations without the creation of really new analytical 
elements, the number of which must always be extreme- 
ly small. The field of arithmetic is, then, by its nature, 
exceedingly restricted, while that of algebra is rigorously 

It is, however, important to remark, that the domain 
of the calculus of values is, in reality, much more ex- 
tensive than it is commonly represented ; for several ques- 


tions truly arithmetical, since they consist of determi- 
nations of values, are not ordinarily classed as such, be- 
cause we are accustomed to treat them only as inci- 
dental in the midst of a body of analytical researches 
more or less elevated, the too high opinion commonly 
formed of the influence of signs being again the princi- 
pal cause of this confusion of ideas. Thus not only the 
construction of a table of logarithms, but also the calcu- 
lation of trigonometrical tables, are true arithmetical op- 
erations of a higher kind. We may also cite as being 
in the same class, although in a very distinct and more 
elevated order, all the methods by which we determine 
directly the value of any function for each particular sys- 
tem of values attributed to the quantities on which it de- 
pends, when we cannot express in general terms the ex- 
plicit form of that function. In this point of view the 
numerical solution of questions which we cannot resolve 
algebraically, and even the calculation of " Definite In- 
tegrals," whose general integrals we do not know, really 
make a part, in spite of all appearances, of the domain 
of arithmetic, in which we must necessarily comprise all 
that which has for its object the determination of the 
values of functions. The considerations relative to this 
object are, in fact, constantly homogeneous, whatever the 
determinations in question, and are always very distinct 
from truly algebraic considerations. 

To complete a just idea of the real extent of the cal- 
culus of values, we must include in it likewise that part 
of the general science of the calculus which now bears 
the name of the Theory of Numbers, and which is yet 
so little advanced. This branch, very extensive by its 
nature, but whose importance in the general system of 


science is not very great, has for its object the discovery 
of the properties inherent in different numbers by virtue 
of their values, and independent of any particular sys- 
tem of numeration. It forms, then, a sort of transcen- 
dental arithmetic ; and to it would really apply the def- 
inition proposed by Newton for algebra. 

The entire domain of arithmetic is, then, much more 
extended than is commonly supposed ; but this calculus 
of values will still never be more than a point, so to 
speak, in comparison with the calculus of functions, of 
which mathematical science essentially consists. This 
comparative estimate will be still more apparent from 
some considerations which I have now to indicate re- 
specting the true nature of arithmetical questions in gen- 
eral, when they are more profoundly examined. 

Its true Nature. In seeking to determine with pre- 
cision in what determinations of values properly consist, 
we easily recognize that they are nothing else but veri- 
table transformations of the functions to be valued ; 
transformations which, in spite of their special end, are 
none the less essentially of the same nature as all those 
taught by analysis. In this point of view, the calculus 
of values might be simply conceived as an appendix, and 
a particular application of the calculus of functions, so 
that arithmetic would disappear, so to say, as a distinct 
section in the whole body of abstract mathematics. 

In order thoroughly to comprehend this consideration, 
we must observe that, when we propose to determine the 
value of an unknown number whose mode of formation is 
given, it is, by the mere enunciation of the arithmetical 
question, already defined and expressed under a certain 
form ; and that in determining its vatue we only put its 


expression under another determinate form, to whicn tro 
are accustomed to refer the exact notion of each particu- 
lar number by making it re-enter into the regular system 
of numeration. The determination of values consists 
so completely of a simple transformation, that when the 
primitive expression of the number is found to be already 
conformed to the regular system of numeration, there 
is no longer any determination of value, properly speak- 
ing, or, rather, the question is answered by the question 
itself. Let the question be to add the two numbers one 
and twenty, we answer it by merely repeating the enun- 
ciation of the question,^ and nevertheless we think that 
we have determined the value of the sum. This signi- 
fies that in this case the first expression of the function 
had no need of being transformed, while it would not be 
thus in adding twenty-three and fourteen, for then the 
sum would not be immediately expressed in a manner 
conformed to the rank which it occupies in the fixed and 
general scale of numeration. 

To sum up as comprehensively as possible the preced- 
ing views, we may say, that to determine the value of 
a number is nothing else than putting its primitive ex- 
pression under the form 

a+bz+cz z +dz 3 -\-ez* +pz m , 

z being generally equal to 10, and the coefficients <z, b, 
c, d, &c., being subjected to the conditions of being whole 
numbers less than z ; capable of becoming equal to zero ; 
but never negative. Every arithmetical question may 
thus be stated as consisting in putting under such a form 

* This is less strictly true in the English system of numeration than in 
the French, since " twenty-one" is our more usual mode of expressing this 


any abstract function whatever of different quantities, 
which are supposed to have themselves a similar form 
already. We might then see in the different operations 
of arithmetic only simple particular cases of certain alge- 
braic transformations, excepting the special difficulties 
belonging to conditions relating to the nature of the co- 

It clearly follows that abstract mathematics is essen- 
tially composed of the Calculus of Functions, which had 
been already seen to be its most important, most extend- 
ed, and most difficult part. It will henceforth be the ex- 
clusive subject of our analytical investigations. I will 
therefore no longer delay on the Calculus of Values, but 
pass immediately to the examination of the fundamental 
division of the Calculus of Functions. 


Principle of its Fundamental Division. We have 
determined, at the beginning of this chapter, wherein 
properly consists the difficulty which we experience in 
putting mathematical questions into equations. It is es- 
sentially because of the insufficiency of the very small 
number of analytical elements which we possess, that 
the relation of the concrete to the abstract is usually so 
difficult to establish. Let us endeavour now to appre- 
ciate in a philosophical manner the general process by 
which the human mind has succeeded, in so great a num- 
ber of important cases, in overcoming this fundamental 
obstacle to The establishment of Equations. 

1. By the Creation of new Functions. In looking at 
this important question from the most general point of 
view, we are led at once to the conception of one means of 


facilitating the establishment of the equations of phenom- 
ena. Since the principal obstacle in this matter comes 
from the too small number of our analytical elements, the 
whole question would seem to be reduced to creating 
new ones. But this means, though natural, is really 
illusory ; and though it might be useful, it is certainly 

In fact, the creation of an elementary abstract func- 
tion, which shall be veritably new, presents in itself the 
greatest difficulties. There is even something contra- 
dictory in such an idea ; for a new analytical element 
would evidently not fulfil its essential and appropriate 
conditions, if we could not immediately determine its 
value. Now, on the other hand, how are we to deter- 
mine the value of a new function which is truly simple, 
that is, which is'not formed by a combination of those 
already known ? That appears almost impossible. The 
introduction into analysis of another elementary abstract 
function, or rather of another couple of functions (for each 
would be always accompanied by its inverse), supposes 
then, of necessity, the simultaneous creation of a new 
arithmetical operation, which is certainly very difficult. 

If we endeavour to obtain an idea of the means which 
the human mind employs for inventing new analytical 
elements, by the examination of the procedures by the 
aid of which it has actually conceived those which we 
already possess, our observations leave us in that respect 
in an entire uncertainty, for the artifices which it has 
already made use of for that purpose are evidently ex- 
hausted. To convince ourselves of it, let us consider 
the last couple of simple functions which has been in- 
troduced into analysis, and at the formation of which we 


have been present, so to speak, namely, the fourth couple ; 
for, as I have explained, the fifth couple does not strictly 
give veritable new analytical elements. The function 
a x , and, consequently, its inverse, have been formed by 
conceiving, under a new point of view, a function which 
had been a long time known, namely, powers when the 
idea of them had become sufficiently generalized. The 
consideration of a power relatively to the variation of its 
exponent, instead of to the variation of its base, was suf- 
ficient to give rise to a truly novel simple function, the 
variation following then an entirely different route. But 
this artifice, as simple as ingenious, can furnish nothing 
more ; for, in turning over in the same manner all our 
present analytical elements, we end in only making them 
return into one another. 

"We have, then, no idea as to how we could proceed to 
the creation of new elementary abstract functions which 
would properly satisfy all the necessary conditions. This 
is not to say, however, that we have at present attain, 
ed the effectual limit established in that respect by the 
bounds of our intelligence. It is even certain that the 
last special improvements in mathematical analysis have 
contributed to extend our resources in that respect, by 
introducing within the domain of the calculus certain def- 
inite integrals, which in some respects supply the place 
of new simple functions, although they are far from ful- 
filling all the necessary conditions, which has prevented 
me from inserting them in the table of true analytical 
elements. But, on the whole, I think it unquestionable 
that the number of these elements cannot increase ex- 
cept with extreme slowness. It is therefore not from 
these sources that the human mind has drawn its most 


powerful means of facilitating, as much as is possible, 
the establishment of equations. 

2. By the Conception of Equations between certain 
auxiliary Quantities. This first method being set aside, 
there remains evidently but one other : it is, seeing the 
impossibility of finding directly the equations between 
the quantities under consideration, to seek for correspond- 
ing ones between other auxiliary quantities, connected 
with the first according to a certain determinate law, 
and from the relation between which we may return to 
that between the primitive magnitudes. Such is, in 
substance, the eminently fruitful conception which the 
human mind has succeeded in establishing, and which 
constitutes its most admirable instrument for the mathe- 
matical explanation of natural phenomena ; the analysis, 
called transcendental. 

As a general philosophical principle, the auxiliary 
quantities, which are introduced in the place of the prim- 
itive magnitudes, or concurrently with them, in order to 
facilitate the establishment of equations, might be de- 
rived according to any law whatever from the immediate 
elements of the question. This conception has thus a 
much more extensive reach than has been commonly at- 
tributed to it by even the most profound geometers. It 
is extremely important for us to view it in its whole log- 
ical extent, for it will perhaps be by establishing a gen- 
eral mode of derivation different from that to which we 
have thus far confined ourselves (although it is evidently 
very far from being the only possible one) that we shall 
one day succeed in essentially perfecting mathematical 
analysis as a whole, and consequently in establishing 
more powerful means of investigating the laws of nature 


than our present processes, which are unquestionably sus- 
ceptible of becoming exhausted. 

But, regarding merely the present constitution of the 
science, the only auxiliary quantities habitually intro- 
duced in the place of the primitive quantities in the 
Transcendental Analysis are what are called, 1, infi- 
nitely small elements, the differentials (of different or- 
ders) of those quantities, if we regard this analysis in the 
manner of LEIBNITZ ; or, 2, the fluxions, the limits of 
the ratios of the simultaneous increments of the primi- 
tive quantities compared with one another, or, more 
briefly, the prime and ultimate ratios of these incre- 
ments, if we adopt the conception of NEWTON ; or, 3, 
the derivatives, properly so called, of those quantities, 

that is, the coefficients of the different terms of their re- 

spective increments, according to the conception of LA- 

These three principal methods of viewing our present 
transcendental analysis, and all the other less distinctly 
characterized ones which have been successively pro- 
posed, are, by their nature, necessarily identical, whether 
in the calculation or in the application, as will be ex- 
plained in a general manner in the third chapter. As to 
their relative value, we shall there see that the concep- 
tion of Leibnitz has thus far, in practice, an incontesta- 
ble superiority, but that its logical character is exceed- 
ingly vicious ; while that the conception of Lagrange, 
admirable by its simplicity, by its logical perfection, by 
the philosophical unity which it has established in math- 
ematical analysis (till then separated into two almost en- 
tirely independent worlds), presents, as yet, serious incon- 
veniences in the applications, by retarding the progress 



of the mind. The conception of Newton occupies nearly 
middle ground in these various relations, being less rapid, 
but more rational than that of Leibnitz ; less philosoph- 
ical, but more applicable than that of Lagrange. 

This is not the place to explain the advantages of the 
introduction of this kind of auxiliary quantities in the 
place of the primitive magnitudes. The third chapter 
is devoted to this subject. At present I limit myself to 
consider this conception in the most general manner, in 
order to deduce therefrom the fundamental division of 
the calculus of functions into two systems essentially 
distinct, whose dependence, for the complete solution of 
any one mathematical question, is invariably determi- 

In this connexion, and in the logical order of ideas, 
the transcendental analysis presents itself as being ne- 
cessarily the first, since its general object is to facilitate 
the establishment of equations, an operation which must 
evidently precede the resolution of those equations, which 
is the object of the ordinary analysis. But though it is 
exceedingly important to conceive in this way the true 
relations of these two systems of analysis, it is none the 
less proper, in conformity with the regular usage, to 
study the transcendental analysis after ordinary analy- 
sis ; for though the former is, at bottom, by itself log- 
ically independent of the latter, or, at least, may be es- 
sentially disengaged from it, yet it is clear that, since * 
its employment in the solution of questions has always 
more or less need of being completed by the use of the 
ordinary analysis, we would be constrained to leave the 
questions in suspense if this latter had not been v previous- 
ly studied. 


Corresponding Divisions of the Calculus of Func- 
tions. It follows from the preceding considerations that 
the Calculus of Functions, or Algebra (taking this word 
in its most extended meaning), is composed of two dis- 
tinct fundamental branches, one of which has for its im- 
mediate object the resolution of equations, when they 
are directly established between the magnitudes them- 
selves which are under consideration ; and the other, 
starting from equations (generally much easier to form) 
between quantities indirectly connected with those of 
the problem, has for its peculiar and constant destina- 
tion the deduction, by invariable analytical methods, of 
the corresponding equations between the direct magni- 
tudes which we are considering ; which brings the ques- 
tion within the domain of the preceding calculus. 

The former calculus bears most frequently the name 
of Ordinary Analysis, or of Algebra, properly so called. 
The second constitutes what is called the Transcendent- 
al Analysis, which has been designated by the different 
denominations of Infinitesimal Calculus, Calculus of 
Fluxions and of Fluents, Calculus of Vanishing Quan- 
tities, the Differential and Integral Calculus, &c., ac- 
cording to the point of view in which it has been con- 

In order to remove every foreign consideration, I will 
propose to name it CALCULUS OF INDIRECT FUNCTIONS, giv- 
ing to ordinary analysis the title of CALCULUS OF DIRECT 
FUNCTIONS. These expressions, which I form essentially 
by generalizing and epitomizing the ideas of Lagrange, 
are simply intended to indicate with precision the true 
general character belonging to each of these two forms 
of analysis. 


Having now established the fundamental division of 
mathematical analysis, I have next to consider separate- 
ly each of its two parts, commencing with the Calculus 
of Direct Functions, and reserving more extended de- 
velopments for the different branches of the Calculus of 
Indirect Functions. 



THE Calculus of direct Functions, or Algebra, is (as 
was shown at the end of the preceding chapter) entirely 
sufficient for the solution of mathematical questions, when 
they are so simple that we can form directly the equa- 
tions between the magnitudes themselves which we are 
considering, without its being nece*ssary to introduce in 
their place, or conjointly with them, any system of aux- 
iliary quantities derived from the first. It is true that 
in the greatest number of important cases its use re- 
quires to be preceded and prepared by that of the Cal- 
culus of indirect Functions, which is intended to facili- 
tate the establishment of equations. But, although alge- 
bra has then only a secondary office to perform, it has 
none the less a necessary part in the complete solution 
of the question, so that the Calculus of direct Functions 
must continue to be, by its nature, the fundamental base 
of all mathematical analysis. We must therefore, before 
going any further, consider in a general manner the logi- 
cal composition of this calculus, and the degree of devel- 
opment to which it has at the present day arrived. 

Its Object. The final object of this calculus being the 
resolution (properly so called) of equations, that is, the 
discovery of the manner in which the unknown quan- 
tities are formed from the known quantities, in accord- 
ance with the equations which exist between them, it 
naturally presents as many different departments as we 


can conceive truly distinct classes of equations. Its ap- 
propriate extent is consequently rigorously indefinite, the 
number of analytical functions susceptible of entering 
into equations being in itself quite unlimited, although 
they are composed of only a very small number of primi- 
tive elements. 

Classification of Equations. The rational classifica- 
tion of equations must evidently be determined by the 
nature of the analytical elements of which their numbers 
are composed ; every other classification would be essen- 
tially arbitrary. Accordingly, analysts begin by divid- 
ing equations with one or more variables into two princi- 
pal classes, according as they contain functions of only 
the first three couples (see the table in chapter i., page 
51), or as they include also exponential or circular func- 
tions. The names of Algebraic functions and Transcen- 
dental functions, commonly given to these two principal 
groups of analytical elements, are undoubtedly very in- 
appropriate. But the universally established division be- 
tween the corresponding equations is none the less very 
real in this sense, that the resolution of equations con- 
taining the functions called transcendental necessarily 
presents more difficulties than those of the equations 
called algebraic. Hence the study of the former is as 
yet exceedingly imperfect, so that frequently the resolu- 
tion of the most simple of them is still unknown to us,^ 
and our analytical methods have almost exclusive refer- 
ence to the elaboration of the latter. 

* Simple as may seem, for example, the equation 

a r +6 x =c x , 

we do not yet know how to resolve it, which may give some idea of the 
extreme imperfection of this part of algebra. 



Considering now only these Algebraic equations, we 
must observe, in the first place, that although they may 
often contain irrational functions of the unknown quan- 
tities as well as rational functions, we can always, by 
more or less easy transformations, make the first case 
come under the second, so that it is with this last that 
analysts have had to occupy themselves exclusively in 
order to resolve all sorts of algebraic equations. 

Their 'Classification. In the infancy of algebra, these 
equations were classed according to the number of their 
terms. But this classification was evidently faulty, since 
it separated cases which were really similar, and brought 
together others which had nothing in common besides this 
unimportant characteristic.^ It has been retained only 
for equations with two terms, which are, in fact, capable 
of being resolved in a manner peculiar to themselves. 

The classification of equations by what is called their 
degrees, is, on the other hand, eminently natural, for this 
distinction rigorously determines the greater or less dif- 
ficulty of their resolution. This gradation is apparent 
in the cases of all the equations which can be resolved ; 
but it may be indicated in a general manner independ- 
ently of the fact of the resolution. We need only con- 
sider that the most general equation of each degree ne- 
cessarily comprehends all those of the different inferior de- 
grees, as must also the formula which determines the un- 
known quantity. Consequently, however slight we may 
suppose the difficulty peculiar to the degree which we 

* The same error was afterward committed, in the infancy of the infini- 
tesimal calculus, in relation to the integration of differential equations. 


are considering, since it is inevitably complicated in the 
execution with those presented by all the preceding de- 
grees, the resolution really offers more and more obstacles, 
in proportion as the degree of the equation is elevated. 


Its Limits. The resolution of algebraic equations is 
as yet known to us only in the four first degrees, such 
is the increase of difficulty noticed above. In this re- 
spect, algebra has made no considerable progress since 
the labours of Descartes and the Italian analyses of the 
sixteenth century, although in the last two centuries 
there has been perhaps scarcely a single geometer who 
has not busied himself in trying to advance the resolu- 
tion of equations. The general equation of the fifth de- 
gree itself has thus far resisted all attacks. 

The constantly increasing complication which the 
formulas for resolving equations must necessarily pre- 
sent, in proportion as the degree increases (the difficulty 
of using the formula of the fourth degree rendering it al- 
most inapplicable), has determined analysts to renounce, 
by a tacit agreement, the pursuit of such researches, al- 
though they are far from regarding it as impossible to 
obtain the resolution of equations of the fifth degree, and 
of several other higher ones. 

General Solution. The only question of this kind 
which would be really of great importance, at least in 
its logical relations, would be the general resolution of 
algebraic equations of any degree whatsoever. Now, 
the more we meditate on this subject, the more we are 
led to think, with Lagrange, that it really surpasses the 
scope of our intelligence. We must besides observe that 


the formula which would express the root of an equation 
of the m lh degree would necessarily include radicals of 
the m th order (or functions of an equivalent multiplici- 
ty), because of the m determinations which it must ad- 
mit. Since we have seen, besides, that this formula 
must also embrace, as a particular case, that formula 
which corresponds to every lower degree, it follows that 
it would inevitably also contain radicals of the next 
lower degree, the next lower to that, &c., so that, even 
if it were possible to discover it, it would almost always 
present too great a complication to be capable of being 
usefully employed, unless we could succeed in simplify- 
ing it, at the same time retaining all its generality, by 
the introduction of a new class of analytical elements of 
which we yet have no idea. We have, then, reason to 
believe that, without having already here arrived at the 
limits imposed by the feeble extent of our intelligence, 
we should not be long in reaching them if we actively 
and earnestly prolonged tliis series of investigations. 

It is, besides, important to observe that, even suppos- 
ing we had obtained the resolution of algebraic equa- 
tions of any degree whatever, we would still have treated 
only a very small part of algebra, properly so called, 
that is, of the calculus of direct functions, including the 
resolution of all the equations which can be formed by 
the known analytical functions. 

Finally, we must remember that, by an undeniable 
law of human nature, our means for conceiving new 
questions being much more powerful than our resources 
for resolving them, or, in other words, the human mind 
being much more ready to inquire than to reason, we 
shall necessarily always remain below the difficulty, no 


matter to what degree of development our intellectual 
labour may arrive. Thus, even though we should some 
day discover the complete resolution of all the analytical 
equations at present known, chimerical as the supposi- 
tion is, there can be no doubt that, before attaining this 
end, and probably even as a subsidiary means, we would 
have already overcome the difficulty (a much smaller one, 
though still very great) of conceiving new analytical ele- 
ments, the introduction of which would give rise to class- 
es of equations of which, at present, we are completely 
ignorant ; so that a similar imperfection in algebraic sci- 
ence would be continually reproduced, in spite of the real 
and very important increase of the absolute mass of our 

What we know in Algebra. In the present condi- 
tion of algebra, the complete resolution of the equations 
of the first four degrees, of any binomial equations, of 
certain particular equations of the higher degrees, and of 
a very small number of exponential, logarithmic, or cir- 
cular equations, constitute the fundamental methods 
which are presented by the calculus of direct functions 
for the solution of mathematical problems. But, limited 
as these elements are, geometers have nevertheless suc- 
ceeded in treating, in a truly admirable manner, a very 
great number of important questions, as we shall find in 
the course of the volume. The general improvements 
introduced within a century into the total system of 
mathematical analysis, have had for their principal ob- 
ject to make immeasurably useful this little knowledge 
which we have, instead of tending to increase it. This 
result has been so fully obtained, that most frequently 
this calculus has no real share in the complete solution 


of the question, except by its most simple parts ; those 
which have reference to equations of the two first de- 
grees, with one or more variables. 


The extreme imperfection of algebra, with respect to 
the resolution of equations, has led analysts to occupy 
themselves with a new class of questions, whose true 
character should be here noted. They have busied them- 
selves in filling up the immense gap in the resolution of 
algebraic equations of the higher degrees, by what they 
have named the numerical resolution of equations. Not 
being able to obtain, in general, the formula which ex- 
presses what explicit function of the given quantities the 
unknown one is, they have sought (in the absence of this 
kind of resolution, the only one really algebraic] to de- 
termine, independently of that formula, at least the value 
of each unknown quantity, for various designated sys- 
tems of particular values attributed to the given quan- 
tities. By the .successive labours of analysts, this in- 
complete and illegitimate operation, which presents an 
intimate mixture of truly algebraic questions with others 
which are purely arithmetical, has been rendered possi- 
ble in all cases for equations of any degree and even of 
any form. The methods for this which we now possess 
are sufficiently general, although the calculations to which 
they lead are often so complicated as to render it almost 
impossible to execute them. We have nothing else to 
do, then, in this part of algebra, but to simplify the meth- 
ods sufficiently to render them regularly applicable, which 
we may hope hereafter to effect. In this condition of 
the calculus of direct functions, we endeavour, in its ap- 


plication, so to dispose the proposed questions as finally to 
require only this numerical resolution of the equations. 
Its limited Usefulness. Valuable as is such a re- 
source in the absence of the veritable solution, it is es- 
sential not to misconceive the true character of these 
methods, which analysts rightly regard as a very imper- 
fect algebra. In fact, we are far from being always able 
to reduce our mathematical questions to depend finally 
upon only the numerical resolution of equations ; that 
can be done only for questions quite isolated or truly 
final, that is, for the smallest number. Most questions, 
in fact, are only preparatory, and intended to serve as an 
indispensable preparation for the solution of other ques- 
tions. Now, for such an object, it is evident that it is 
not the actual value of the unknown quantity which it 
is important to discover, but the formula, which shows 
how it is derived from the other quantities under con- 
sideration. It is this which happens, for example, in a 
very extensive class of cases, whenever a certain ques- 
tion includes at the same time several unknown quanti- 
ties. We have then, first of all, to separate them. By 
suitably employing the simple and general method so 
happily invented by analysts, and which consists in re- 
ferring all the other unknown quantities to one of them, 
the difficulty would always disappear if we knew how to 
obtain the algebraic resolution of the equations under 
consideration, while the numerical solution would then 
be perfectly useless. It is only for want of knowing the 
algebraic resolution of equations with a single unknown 
quantity, that we are obliged to treat Elimination as a 
distinct question, which forms one of the greatest special 
difficulties of common algebra. Laborious as are the 


methods by the aid of which we overcome this difficulty, 
they are not even applicable, in an entirely general man- 
ner, to the elimination of one unknown quantity between 
two equations of any form whatever. 

In the most simple questions, and when we have really 
to resolve only a single equation with a single unknown 
quantity, this numerical resolution is none the less a 
very imperfect method, even when it is strictly sufficient. 
It presents, in fact, this serious inconvenience of obliging 
us to repeat the whole series of operations for the slight- 
est change which may take place in a single one of the 
quantities considered, although their relations to one an- 
other remain unchanged ; the calculations made for one 
case not enabling us to dispense with any of those which 
relate to a case very slightly different. This happens be- 
cause of our inability to abstract and treat separately 
that purely algebraic part of the question which is com- 
mon to all the cases which result from the mere varia- 
tion of the given numbers. 

According to the preceding considerations, the calcu- 
lus of direct functions, viewed in its present state, di- 
vides into two very distinct branches, according as its 
subject is the algebraic resolution of equations or their 
numerical resolution. The first department, the only 
one truly satisfactory, is unhappily very limited, and will 
probably always remain so ; the second, too often insuf- 
ficient, has, at least, the advantage of a much greater 
generality. The necessity of clearly distinguishing these 
two parts is evident, because of the essentially different 
object proposed in each, and consequently the peculiar 
point of view under which quantities are therein con- 


/ O 

Different Divisions of the two Methods of Resolu- 
tion. If, moreover, we consider these parts with refer- 
ence to the different methods of which each is composed, 
we find in their logical distribution an entirely different 
arrangement. In fact, the first part must be divided 
according to the nature of the equations which we are 
able to resolve, and independently of every consideration 
relative to the values of the unknown quantities. In 
the second part, on the contrary, it is not according to 
the degrees of the equations that the methods are natu- 
rally distinguished, since they are applicable to equations 
of any degree whatever ; it is according to the numeri- 
cal character of the values of the unknown quantities ; 
for, in calculating these numbers directly, without dedu- 
cing them from general formulas, different means would 
evidently be employed when the numbers are not suscep- 
tible of having their values determined otherwise than 
by a series of approximations, always incomplete, or when 
they can be obtained with entire exactness. This dis- 
tinction of incommensurable and of commensurable roots, 
which require quite different principles for their determi- 
nation, important as it is in the numerical resolution of 
equations, is entirely insignificant in the algebraic reso- 
lution, in which the rational or irrational nature of the 
numbers which are obtained is a mere accident of the 
calculation, which cannot exercise any influence over the 
methods employed ; it is, in a word, a simple arithmetical 
consideration. We may say as much, though in a less 
degree, of the division of the commensurable roots them- 
selves into entire and fractional. In fine, the case is 
the same, in a still greater degree, with the most gen- 
eral classification of roots, as real and imaginary. All 


these different considerations, which are preponderant as 
to the numerical resolution of equations, and which are 
of no importance in their algebraic resolution, render more 
and more sensible the essentially distinct nature of these 
two principal parts of algebra. 


These two departments, which constitute the immedi- 
ate object of the calculus of direct functions, are subordi- 
nate to a third one, purely speculative, from which both 
of them borrow their most powerful resources, and which 
has been very exactly designated by the general name 
of Theory of Equations, although it as yet relates only 
to Algebraic equations. The numerical resolution of 
equations, because of its generality, has special need of 
this rational foundation. 

This last and important branch of algebra is naturally 
divided into two orders of questions, viz., those which re- 
fer to the composition of equations, and those which con- 
cern their transformation; these latter having for their 
object to modify the roots of an equation without know- 
ing them, in accordance with any given law, providing 
that this law is uniform in relation to all the parts.^ 

* The fundamental principle on which reposes the theory of equations, 
and which is so frequently applied in all mathematical analysis the de- 
composition of algebraic, rational, and entire functions, of any degree what- 
ever, into factors of the first degree is never employed except for functions 
of a single variable, without any one having examined if it ought to be ex- 
tended to functions of several variables. The general impossibility of such 
a decomposition is demonstrated by the author in detail, but more properly 
belongs to a special treatise. 



To complete this rapid general enumeration of the dif- 
ferent essential parts of the calculus of direct functions, 
I must, lastly, mention expressly one of the most fruitful 
and important theories of algebra proper, that relating 
to the transformation of functions into series by the aid 
of what is called the Method of indeterminate Coeffi- 
cients. This method, so eminently analytical, and which 
must be regarded as one of the most remarkable discov- 
eries of Descartes, has undoubtedly lost some of its im- 
portance since the invention and the development of the 
infinitesimal calculus, the place of which it might so hap- 
pily take in some particular respects. But the increas- 
ing extension of the transcendental analysis, although it 
has rendered this method much less necessary, has, on 
the other hand, multiplied its applications and enlarged 
its resources ; so that by the useful combination between 
the two theories, which has finally been effected, the use 
of the method of indeterminate coefficients has become 
at present much more extensive than it was even before 
the formation of the calculus of indirect functions. 

Having thus sketched the general outlines of algebra 
proper, I have now to offer some considerations on several 
leading points in the calculus of direct functions, our 
ideas of which may be advantageously made more clear 
by a philosophical examination. 



fhe difficulties connected with several peculiar sym- 
W 'i to which algebraic calculations sometimes lead, and 
especially to the expressions called imaginary, have been, 
I think, much exaggerated through purely metaphysical 
considerations, which have been forced upon them, in the 
place of regarding these abnormal results in their true 
point of view as simple analytical facts. Viewing them 
thus, we readily see that, since the spirit of mathemat- 
ical analysis consists in considering magnitudes in refer- 
ence to their relations only, and without any regard to 
their determinate value, analysts are obliged to admit in- 
differently every kind of expression which can be engen- 
dered by algebraic combinations. The interdiction of 
even one expression because of its apparent singularity 
would destroy the generality of their conceptions. The 
common embarrassment on this subject seems to me to 
proceed essentially from an unconscious confusion be- 
tween the idea of function and the idea of value, or, what 
comes to the same thing, between the algebraic and the 
arithmetical point of view. A thorough examination 
would show mathematical analysis to be much more clear 
in its nature than even mathematicians commonly sup- 


As to negative quantities, which have given rise to so 
many misplaced discussions, as irrational as useless, we 
must distinguish between their abstract signification and 
their concrete interpretation, which have been almost al- 
ways confounded up to the present day. Under the first 



point of view, the theory of negative quantities can be 
established in a complete manner by a single algebraical 
consideration. The necessity of admitting such expres- 
sions is the same as for imaginary quantities, as above 
indicated ; and their employment as an analytical arti- 
fice, to render the formulas more comprehensive, is a 
mechanism of calculation which cannot really give rise 
to any serious difficulty. We may therefore regard the 
abstract theory of negative quantities as leaving nothing 
essential to desire ; it presents no obstacles but those in- 
appropriately introduced by sophistical considerations. 

It is far from being so, however, with their concrete 
theory. This consists essentially in that admirable prop- 
erty of the signs + and , of representing analytically 
the oppositions of directions of which certain magnitudes 
are susceptible. This general theorem on the relation 
of the concrete to the abstract in mathematics is one of 
the most beautiful discoveries which we owe to the genius 
of Descartes, who obtained it as a simple result of prop- 
erly directed philosophical observation. A great num- 
ber of geometers have since striven to establish directly 
its general demonstration, but thus far their efforts have 
been illusory. Their vain metaphysical considerations 
and heterogeneous minglings of the abstract and the 
concrete have so confused the subject, that it becomes 
necessary to here distinctly enunciate the general fact. 
It consists in this : if, in any equation whatever, express- 
ing the relation of certain quantities which are suscepti- 
ble of opposition of directions, one or more of those quan- 
tities come to be reckoned in a direction contrary to that 
which belonged to them when the equation was first es- 
tablished, it will not be necessary to form directly a new 


equation for this second state of the phenomena ; it will 
suffice to change, in the first equation, the sign of each 
of the quantities which shall have changed its direction ; 
and the equation, thus modified, will always rigorously 
coincide with that which we would have arrived at in 
recommencing to investigate, for this new case, the an- 
alytical law of the phenomenon. The general theorem 
conavsts in this constant and necessary coincidence. Now, 
as yet, no one has succeeded in directly proving this ; we 
have assured ourselves of it only by a great number of 
geometrical and mechanical verifications, which are, it 
is true, sufficiently multiplied, and especially sufficiently 
varied, to prevent any clear mind from having the least 
doubt of the exactitude and the generality of this essen- 
tial property, but which, in a philosophical point of view, 
do not at all dispense with the research for so important 
an explanation. The extreme extent of the theorem must 
make us comprehend both the fundamental difficulties of 
this research and the high utility for the perfecting of 
mathematical science which would belong to the general 
conception of this great truth. This imperfection of the- 
ory, however, has not prevented geometers from making 
the most extensive and the most important use of this 
property in all parts of concrete mathematics. 

It follows from the above general enunciation of the 
fact, independently of any demonstration, that the prop- 
erty of which we speak must never be applied to mag- 
nitudes whose directions are continually varying, with- 
out giving rise to a simple opposition of direction ; in 
that case, the sign with which every result of calculation 
is necessarily affected is not susceptible of any concrete 
interpretation, and the attempts sometimes made to es- 


tablish one are erroneous. This circumstance occurs, 
among other occasions, in the case of a radius vector in 
geometry, and diverging forces in mechanics. 


A second general theorem on the relation of the con . 
crete to the abstract is that which is ordinarily desig- 
nated under the name of Principle of Homogeneity. It 
is undoubtedly much less important in its applications 
than the preceding, but it particularly merits our at- 
tention as having, by its nature, a still greater extent, 
since it is applicable to all phenomena without distinc- 
tion, and because of the real utility which it often pos- 
sesses for the verification of their analytical laws. I 
can, moreover, exhibit a direct and general demonstra- 
tion of it which seems to me very simple. It is founded 
on this single observation, which is self-evident, that the 
exactitude of every relation between any concrete mag- 
nitudes whatsoever is independent of the value of the 
units to which they are referred for the purpose of ex- 
pressing them in numbers. For example, the relation 
which exists between the three sides of a right-angled 
triangle is the same, whether they are measured by yards, 
or by miles, or by inches. 

It follows from this general consideration, that every 
equation which expresses the analytical law of any phe- 
nomenon must possess this property of being in no way 
altered, when all the quantities which are found in it 
are made to undergo simultaneously the change cor- 
responding to that which their respective units would 
experience. Now this change evidently consists in all 
the quantities of each sort becoming at once m times 


smaller, if the unit which corresponds to them becomes 
m times greater, or reciprocally. Thus every equation 
which represents any concrete relation whatever must 
possess this characteristic of remaining the same, when 
we make m times greater all the quantities which it con- 
tains, and which express the magnitudes between which 
the relation exists ; excepting always the numbers which 
designate simply the mutual ratios of these different 
magnitudes, and which therefore remain invariable du- 
ring the change of the units. It is this property which 
constitutes the law of Homogeneity in its most extended 
signification, that is, of whatever analytical functions the 
equations may be composed. 

But most frequently we consider only the cases in 
which the functions are such as are called algebraic, 
and to which the idea of degree is applicable. In this 
case we can give more precision to the general proposi- 
tion by determining the analytical character which must 
be necessarily presented by the equation, in order that 
this property may be verified. It is easy to see, then, 
that, by the modification just explained, all the terms of 
the first degree, whatever may be their form, rational or 
irrational, entire or fractional, will become m times great- 
er ; all those of the second degree, m 2 times ; those of 
the third, m 3 times, &c. Thus the terms of the same de- 
gree, however different may be their composition, vary- 
ing in the same manner, and the terms of different de- 
grees varying in an unequal proportion, whatever simi- 
larity there may be in their composition, it will be ne- 
cessary, to prevent the equation from being disturbed, 
that all the terms which it contains should be of the same 
degree. It is in this that properly consists the ordinary 


theorem of Homogeneity, and it is from this circum- 
stance that the general law has derived its name, which, 
however, ceases to be exactly proper for all other func- 

In order to treat this subject in its whole extent, it is 
important to observe an essential condition, to which at- 
tention must be paid in applying this property when the 
phenomenon expressed by the equation presents magni- 
tudes of different natures. Thus it may happen that 
the respective units are completely independent of each 
other, and then the theorem of Homogeneity will hold 
good, either with reference to all the corresponding classes 
of quantities, or with regard to only a single one or more 
of them. But it will happen on other occasions that the 
different units will have fixed relations to one another, 
determined by the nature of the question ; then it will 
be necessary to pay attention to this subordination of 
the units in verifying the homogeneity, which will not 
exist any longer in a purely algebraic sense, and the 
precise form of which will vary according to the nature 
of the phenomena. Thus, for example, to fix our ideas, 
when, in the analytical expression of geometrical phe- 
nomena, we are considering at once lines, areas, and vol- 
umes, it will be necessary to observe that the three cor- 
responding units are necessarily so connected with each 
other that, according to the subordination generally es- 
tablished in that respect, when the first becomes m times 
greater, the second becomes m* times, and the third m 3 
times. It is with such a modification that homogeneity 
will exist in the equations, in which, if they are alge- 
braic, we will have to estimate the degree of each term 
by doubling the exponents of the factors which corre- 


spend to areas, and tripling those of the factors relating 
to volumes. 

Such are the principal general considerations relating 
to the Calculus of Direct Functions. We have now to 
pass to the philosophical examination of the Calculus of 
Indirect Functions, the much superior importance and 
extent of which claim a fuller development. 



WE determined, in the second chapter, the philosoph- 
ical character of the transcendental analysis, in whatever 
manner it may be conceived, considering only the gen- 
eral nature of its actual destination as a part of mathe- 
matical science. This analysis has been presented by 
geometers under several points of view, really distinct, 
although necessarily equivalent, and leading always to 
identical results. They may be reduced to three prin- 
cipal ones ; those of LEIBNITZ, of NEWTON, and of LA- 
GRANGE, of which all the others are only secondary mod- 
ifications. In the present state of science, each of these 
three general conceptions offers essential advantages which 
pertain to it exclusively, without our having yet suc- 
ceeded in constructing a single method uniting all these 
different characteristic qualities. This combination will 
probably be hereafter effected by some method founded 
upon the conception of Lagrange When that impor- 
tant philosophical labour shall have been accomplished, 
the study of the other conceptions will have only a his- 
toric interest ; but, until then, the science must be con- 
sidered as in only a provisional state, which requires the 
simultaneous consideration of all the various modes of 
viewing this calculus. Illogical as may appear this mul- 
tiplicity of conceptions of one identical subject, still, 
without them all, we could form but a very insufficient 


idea of this analysis, whether in itself, or more especial- 
ly in relation to its applications. This want of system 
in the most important part of mathematical analysis will 
not appear strange if we consider, on the one hand, its 
great extent and its superior difficulty, and, on the oth- 
er, its recent formation. 


If we had to trace here the systematic history of the 
successive formation of the transcendental analysis, it 
would be necessary previously to distinguish carefully 
from the calculus of indirect functions, properly so call- 
ed, the original idea of the infinitesimal method, which 
can be conceived by itself, independently of any calculus. 
We should see that the first germ of this idea is found 
in the procedure constantly employed by the Greek ge- 
ometers, under the name of the Method of Exhaustions, 
as a means of passing from the properties of straight lines 
to those of curves, and consisting essentially in substi- 
tuting for the curve the auxiliary consideration of an in- 
scribed or circumscribed polygon, by means of which they 
rose to the curve itself, taking in a suitable manner the 
limits of the primitive ratios. Incontestable as is this 
filiation of ideas, it would be giving it a greatly exag- 
gerated importance to see in this method of exhaustions 
the real equivalent of our modern methods, as some ge- 
ometers have done ; for the ancients had no logical and 
general means for the determination of these limits, and 
this was commonly the greatest difficulty of the ques- 
tion ; so that their solutions were not subjected to ab- 
stract and invariable rules, the uniform application of 
which would lead with certainty to the knowledge sought ' 


which is, on the contrary, the principal characteristic of 
our transcendental analysis. In a word, there still re- 
mained the task of generalizing the conceptions used by 
the ancients, and, more especially, by considering it in a 
manner purely abstract, of reducing it to a complete sys- 
tem of calculation, which to them was impossible. 

The first idea which was produced in this new direc- 
tion goes back to the great geometer Format, whom La- 
grange has justly presented as having blocked out the 
direct formation of the transcendental analysis by his 
method for the determination of maxima and minima, 
and for the finding of tangents, which consisted essen- 
tially in introducing the auxiliary consideration of the 
correlative increments of the proposed variables, incre- 
ments afterward suppressed as equal to zero when the 
equations had undergone certain suitable transforma- 
tions. But, although Fermat was the first to conceive 
this analysis in a truly abstract manner, it was yet far 
from being regularly formed into a general and distinct 
calculus having its own notation, and especially freed 
from the superfluous consideration of terms which, in the 
analysis of Fermat, were finally not taken into the ac- 
count, after having nevertheless greatly complicated all 
the operations by their presence. This is what Leibnitz 
so happily executed, half a century later, after some in- 
termediate modifications of the ideas of Fermat intro- 
duced by Wallis, and still more by Barrow ; and he has 
thus been the true creator of the transcendental analy- 
sis, such as we now employ it. This admirable dis- 
covery was so ripe (like all the great conceptions of the 
human intellect at the moment of their manifestation), 
that Newton, on his side, had arrived, at the same time, 


or a little earlier, at a method exactly equivalent, by 
considering this analysis under a very different point of 
view, which, although more logical in itself, is really 
less adapted to give to the common fundamental method 
all the extent and the facility which have been imparted 
to it by the ideas of Leibnitz. Finally, Lagrange, put- 
ting aside the heterogeneous considerations which had 
guided Leibnitz and Newton, has succeeded in reducing 
the transcendental analysis, in its greatest perfection, to 
a purely algebraic system, which only wants more apti- 
tude for its practical applications. 

After this summary glance at the general history of 
the transcendental analysis, we will proceed to the dog- 
matic exposition of the three principal conceptions, in or- 
der to appreciate exactly their characteristic properties, 
and to show the necessary identity of the methods which 
are thence derived. Let us begin with that of Leibnitz. 


Infinitely small Elements. This consists in introdu- 
cing into the calculus, in order to facilitate the establish- 
ment of equations, the infinitely small elements of which 
all the quantities, the relations between which are sought, 
are considered to be composed. These elements or dif- 
ferentials will have certain relations to one another, 
which are constantly and necessarily more simple and 
easy to discover than those of the primitive quantities, and 
by means of which we will be enabled (by a special calcu- 
lus having for its peculiar object the elimination of these 
auxiliary infinitesimals) to go back to the desired equa- 
tions, which it would have been most frequently impos- 
sible to obtain directly. This indirect analysis may have 


different degrees of indirectness ; for, when there is too 
much difficulty in forming immediately the equation be- 
tween the differentials of the magnitudes under consid- 
eration, a second application of the same general artifice 
will have to be made, and these differentials be treated, 
in their turn, as new primitive quantities, and a relation 
be sought between their infinitely small elements (which, 
with reference to the final objects of the question, will be 
second differentials), and so on ; the same transforma- 
tion admitting of being repeated any number of times, 
on the condition of finally eliminating the constantly in- 
creasing number of infinitesimal quantities introduced as 

A person not yet familiar with these considerations 
does not perceive at once how the employment of these 
auxiliary quantities can facilitate the discovery of the 
analytical laws of phenomena ; for the infinitely small 
increments of the proposed magnitudes being of the same 
species with them, it would seem that their relations 
should not be obtained with more ease, inasmuch as the 
greater or less value of a quantity cannot, in fact, exer- 
cise any influence on an inquiry which is necessarily in- 
dependent, by its nature, of every idea of value. But 
it is easy, nevertheless, to explain very clearly, and in a 
quite general manner, how far the question must be sim- 
plified by such an artifice. For this purpose, it is ne- 
cessary to begin by distinguishing different orders of in- 
finitely small quantities, a very precise idea of which 
may be obtained by considering them as being either the 
successive powers of the same primitive infinitely small 
quantity, or as being quantities which may be regarded 
as having finite ratios with these powers ; so that, to 


take an example, the second, third, &c., differentials of 
any one variable are classed as infinitely small quanti- 
ties of the second order, the third, &c., because it is 
easy to discover in them finite multiples of the second, 
third, &c., powers of a certain first differential. These 
preliminary ideas being established, the spirit of the in- 
finitesimal analysis consists in constantly neglecting the 
infinitely small quantities in comparison with finite quan- 
tities, and generally the infinitely small quantities of any 
order whatever in comparison with all those of an in- 
ferior order. It is at once apparent how much such a 
liberty must facilitate the formation of equations between 
the differentials of quantities, since, in the place of these 
differentials, we can substitute such other elements as we 
may choose, and as will be more simple to consider, only 
taking care to conform to this single condition, that the 
new elements differ from the preceding ones only by quan- 
tities infinitely small in comparison with them. It is 
thus that it will be possible, in geometry, to treat curved 
lines as^ composed of an infinity of rectilinear elements, 
curved surfaces as formed of plane elements, and, in me- 
chanics, variable motions as an infinite series of uniform 
motions, succeeding one another at infinitely small inter- 
vals of time. 

EXAMPLES. Considering the importance of this ad- 
mirable conception, I think that I ought here to complete 
the illustration of its fundamental character by the sum- 
mary indication of some leading examples. 

1. Tangents. Let it be required to determine, for 
each point of a plane curve, the equation of which is 
given, the direction o/ its tangent ; a question whose 
general solution was the primitive object of the invent- 


ors of the transcendental analysis. We will consider th 
tangent as a secant joining two points infinitely near to 
each other; and then, designating by dy and dx the in- 
finitely small differences of the co-ordinates of those two 
points, the elementary principles of geometry will imme- 

diately give the equation t-r for the trigonometrical 

tangent of the angle which is made with the axis of the 
abscissas by the desired tangent, this being the most sim- 
ple way of fixing its position in a system of rectilinear 
co-ordinates. This equation, common to all curves, being 
established, the question is reduced to a simple analytical 
problem, which will consist in eliminating the infinitesi- 
mals dx and dy, which were introduced as auxiliaries, by 
determining in each particular case, by means of the equa- 
tion of the proposed curve, the ratio of dy to dx, which will 
be constantly done by uniform and very simple methods. 
2. Rectification of an Arc. In the second place, sup- 
pose that we wish to know the length of the arc of any 
curve, considered as a function of the co-ordinates of its ex- 
tremities. It would be impossible to establish directly tht 
equation between this arc s and these co-ordinates, while 
it is easy to find the corresponding relation between the 
differentials of these different magnitudes. The most sim- 
ple theorems of elementary geometry will in fact give at 
once, considering the infinitely small arc ds as a right 
line, the equations 

ds z =dy*+dx 2 , or ds z =dx*+dy z +dz z , 
according as the curve is of single or double curvature. 
In either case, the question is now entirely within the 
domain of analysis, which, by the elimination of the dif- 
ferentials (which is the peculiar object of the calculus of 


indirect functions), will carry us back from this relation 
to that which exists between the finite quantities them- 
selves under examination. 

3. Quadrature of a Curve. It would be the same 
with the quadrature of curvilinear areas. If the curve is 
a plane one, and referred to rectilinear co-ordinates, we 
will conceive the area A comprised between this curve, 
the axis of the abscissas, and two extreme co-ordinates, 
to increase by an infinitely small quantity dA, as the re- 
sult of a corresponding increment of the abscissa. The 
relation between these two differentials can be immediate- 
ly obtained with the greatest facility by substituting for 
the curvilinear element of the proposed area the rectangle 
formed by the extreme ordinate and the element of the 
abscissa, from which it evidently differs only by an in- 
finitely small quantity of the second order. This will at 
once give, whatever may be the curve, the very simple 
differential equation 

dA=ydx t 

from which, when the curve is defined, the calculus of 
indirect functions will show how to deduce the finite 
equation, which is the immediate object of the problem. 

4. Velocity in Variable Motion. In like manner, in 
Dynamics, when we desire to know the expression for 
the velocity acquired at each instant by a body impress- 
ed with a motion varying according to any law, we will 
consider the motion as being uniform during an infinite- 
ly small element of the time t, and we will thus imme- 
diately form the differential equation de=vdt, in which 
v designates the velocity acquired when the body has 
passed over the space e ; and thence it will be easy to 
deduce, by simple and invariable analytical procedures, 



the formula which would give the velocity in each par- 
ticular motion, in accordance with the corresponding re- 
lation between the time and the space ; or, reciprocally, 
what this relation would be if the mode of variation of 
the velocity was supposed to be known, whether with re- 
spect to the space or to the time. 

5. Distribution of Heat. Lastly, to indicate another 
kind of questions, it is by similar steps that we are able, 
in the study of thermological phenomena, according to 
the happy conception of M. Fourier, to form in a very 
simple manner the general differential equation which 
expresses the variable distribution of heat in any body 
whatever, subjected to any influences, by means of the 
single and easily-obtained relation, which represents the 
uniform distribution of heat in a right-angled parallelo- 
pipedon, considering (geometrically) every other body as 
decomposed into infinitely small elements of a similar 
form, and (thermologically) the flow of heat as constant 
during an infinitely small element of time. Henceforth, 
all the questions which can be presented by abstract ther- 
mology will be reduced, as in geometry and mechanics, 
to mere difficulties of analysis, which will always consist 
in the elimination of the differentials introduced as aux- 
iliaries to facilitate the establishment of the equations. 

Examples of such different natures are more than suf- 
ficient to give a clear general idea of the immense scope 
of the fundamental conception of the transcendental anal- 
ysis as formed by Leibnitz, constituting, as it undoubt- 
edly does, the most lofty thought to which the human 
mind has as yet attained. 

It is evident that this conception was indispensable to 
complete the foundation of mathematical science, by en- 


abling us to establish, in a broad and fruitful manner, 
the relation of the concrete to the abstract. In this re- 
spect it must be regarded as the necessary complement 
of the great fundamental idea of Descartes on the gen- 
eral analytical representation of natural phenomena : an 
idea which did not begin to be worthily appreciated and 
suitably employed till after the formation of the infini- 
tesimal analysis, without which it could not produce, 
even in geometry, very important results. 

Generality of the Formulas. Besides the admirable 
facility which is given by the transcendental analysis for 
the investigation of the mathematical laws of all phe- 
nomena, a second fundamental and inherent property, per- 
haps as important as the first, is the extreme generality of 
the differential formulas, which express in a single equa- 
tion each determinate phenomenon, however varied the 
subjects in relation to which it is considered. Thus we 
see, in the preceding examples, that a single differential 
equation gives the tangents of all curves, another their 
rectifications, a third their quadratures ; and in the same 
way, one invariable formula expresses the mathematical 
law of every variable motion ; and, finally, a single equa- 
tion constantly represents the distribution of heat in any 
body and for any case. This generality, which is so ex- 
ceedingly remarkable, and which is for geometers the 
basis of the most elevated considerations, is a fortunate 
and necessary consequence of the very spirit of the trans- 
cendental analysis, especially in the conception of Leib- 
nitz. Thus the infinitesimal analysis has not only fur- 
nished a general method for indirectly forming equations 
which it would have been impossible to discover in a di- 
rect manner, but it has also permitted us to consider, for 



the mathematical study of natural phenomena, a new 
order of more general laws, which nevertheless present a 
clear and precise signification to every mind habituated 
to their interpretation. By virtue of this second charac- 
teristic property, the entire system of an immense sci- 
ence, such as geometry or mechanics, has been condensed 
into a small number of analytical formulas, from which 
the human mind can deduce, by certain and invariable 
rules, the solution of all particular problems. 

Demonstration of the Method. To complete the gen- 
eral exposition of the conception of Leibnitz, there re- 
mains to be considered the demonstration of the logical 
procedure to which it leads, and this, unfortunately, is 
the most imperfect part of this beautiful method. 

In the beginning of the infinitesimal analysis, the 
most celebrated geometers rightly attached more impor- 
tance to extending the immortal discovery of Leibnitz 
and multiplying its applications than to rigorously es- 
tablishing the logical bases of its operations. They con- 
tented themselves for a long time by answering the ob- 
jections of second-rate geometers by the unhoped-for so- 
lution of the most difficult problems ; doubtless persuaded 
that in mathematical science, much more than in any 
other, we may boldly welcome new methods, even when 
their rational explanation is imperfect, provided they are 
fruitful in results, inasmuch as its much easier and more 
numerous verifications would not permit any error to re- 
main long undiscovered. But this state of things could 
not long exist, and it was necessary to go back to the 
very foundations of the analysis of Leibnitz in order to 
prove, in a perfectly general manner, the rigorous exact- 
itude of the procedures employed in this method, in spite 


of the apparent infractions of the ordinary rules of rea- 
soning which it permitted. 

Leibnitz, urged to answer, had presented an explana- 
tion entirely erroneous, saying that he treated infinitely 
small quantities as incomparables, and that he neglected 
them in comparison with finite quantities, " like grains 
of sand in comparison with the sea :" a view which would 
have completely changed the nature of his analysis, by 
reducing it to a mere approximative calculus, which, un- 
der this point of view, would be radically vicious, since 
it would be impossible to foresee, in general^ to what de- 
gree the successive operations might increase these first 
errors, which could thus evidently attain any amount. 
Leibnitz, then, did not see, except in a very confused 
manner, the true logical foundations of the analysis which 
he had created. His earliest successors limited them- 
selves, at first, to verifying its exactitude by showing the 
conformity of its results, in particular applications, to 
those obtained by ordinary algebra or the geometry of the 
ancients ; reproducing, according to the ancient methods, 
so far as they were able, the solutions of some problems af- 
ter they had been once obtained by the new method, which 
alone was capable of discovering them in the first place. 

When this great question was considered in a more 
general manner, geometers, instead of directly attacking 
the difficulty, preferred to elude it in some way, as Eu- 
ler and D'Alembert, for example, have done, by demon- 
strating the necessary and constant conformity of the 
conception of Leibnitz, viewed in all its applications, 
with other fundamental conceptions of the transcendental 
analysis, that of Newton especially, the exactitude of 
which was free from any objection. Such a general veri- 


fication is undoubtedly strictly sufficient to dissipate any 
uncertainty as to the legitimate employment of the anal, 
ysis of Leibnitz. But the infinitesimal method is so im- 
portant it offers still, in almost all its applications, such 
a practical superiority over the other general concep- 
tions which have been successively proposed that there 
would be a real imperfection in the philosophical charac- 
ter of the science if it could not justify itself, and needed 
to be logically founded on considerations of another order, 
which would then cease to be employed. 

It was, then, of real importance to establish directly 
and in a general manner the necessary rationality of the 
infinitesimal method. After various attempts more or 
less imperfect, a distinguished geometer, Carnot, present- 
ed at last the true direct logical explanation of the meth- 
od of Leibnitz, by showing it to be founded on the prin- 
ciple of the necessary compensation of errors, this being, 
in fact, the precise and luminous manifestation of what 
Leibnitz had vaguely and confusedly perceived. Carnot 
has thus rendered the science an essential service, al- 
though, as we shall see towards the end of this chapter, 
all this logical scaffolding of the infinitesimal method, 
properly so called, is very probably susceptible of only a 
provisional existence, inasmuch as it is radically vicious 
in its nature. Still, we should not fail to notice the 
general system of reasoning proposed by Carnot, in order 
to directly legitimate the analysis of Leibnitz. Here is 
the substance of it : 

In establishing the differential equation of a phenome- 
non, we substitute, for the immediate elements of the dif- 
ferent quantities considered, other simpler infinitesimals, 
which differ from them infinitely little in comparison 


with them ; and this substitution constitutes the princi- 
pal artifice of the method of Leibnitz, which without it 
would possess no real facility for the formation of equa- 
tions. Carnot regards such an hypothesis as really pro- 
ducing an error in the equation thus obtained, and which 
for this reason he calls imperfect ; only, it is clear that 
this error must be infinitely small. Now, on the other 
hand, all the analytical operations, whether of differen- 
tiation or of integration, which are performed upon these 
differential equations, in order to raise them to finite 
equations by eliminating all the infinitesimals which 
have been introduced as auxiliaries, produce as constant- 
ly, by their nature, as is easily seen, other' analogous er- 
rors, so that an exact compensation takes place, and the 
final equations, in the words of Carnot, become perfect. 
Carnot views, as a certain and invariable indication of 
the actual establishment of this necessary compensation, 
the complete elimination of the various infinitely small 
quantities, which is always, in fact, the final object of 
all the operations of the transcendental analysis ; for if 
we have committed no other infractions of the general 
rules of reasoning than those thus exacted by the very 
nature of the infinitesimal method, the infinitely small 
errors thus produced cannot have engendered other than 
infinitely small errors in all the equations, and the rela- 
tions are necessarily of a rigorous exactitude as soon as 
they exist between finite quantities alone, since the only 
errors then possible must be finite ones, while none such 
can have entered. All this general reasoning is founded 
on the conception of infinitesimal quantities, regarded as 
indefinitely decreasing, while those from which they are 
derived are regarded as fixed. 


Illustration by Tangents. Thus, to illustrate this ab- 
stract exposition by a single example, let us take up again 
the question of tangents, which is the most easy to an- 

alyze completely. We will regard the equation ^=-r-> 

obtained above, as being affected with an infinitely small 
error, since it would be perfectly rigorous only for the 
secant. Now let us complete the solution by seeking, 
according to the equation of each curve, the ratio be- 
tween the differentials of the co-ordinates. If we suppose 
this equation to be y=ax 2 , we shall evidently have 

dy= 2axdx+adx z . 

In this formula we shall have to neglect the term dx z 
as an infinitely small quantity of the second order. Then 
the combination of the two imperfect equations. 

t=-r-, dy=2axdx, 

being sufficient to eliminate entirely the infinitesimals, 
the finite result, t=2ax, will necessarily be rigorously cor- 
rect, from the effect of the exact compensation of the two 
errors committed ; since, by its finite nature, it cannot be 
affected by an infinitely small error, and this is, never- 
theless, the only one which it could have, according to 
the spirit of the operations which have been executed. 

It would be easy to reproduce in a uniform manner 
the same reasoning with reference to all the other gen- 
eral applications of the analysis of Leibnitz. 

This ingenious theory is undoubtedly more subtile than 
solid, when we examine it more profoundly ; but it has 
really no other radical logical fault than that of the in- 
finitesimal method itself, of which it is, it seems to me, 
the natural development and the general explanation, so 


that ifc must be adopted for as long a time as it shall be 
thought proper to employ this method directly. 

I pass now to the general exposition of the two other 
fundamental conceptions of the transcendental analysis, 
limiting myself in each to its principal idea, the philo- 
sophical character of the analysis having been sufficiently 
determined above in the examination of the conception 
of Leibnitz, which I have specially dwelt upon because 
it admits of being most easily grasped as a whole, and 
most rapidly described. 


Newton has successively presented his own method of 
conceiving the transcendental analysis under several dif- 
ferent forms. That which is at present the most com- 
monly adopted was designated by Newton, sometimes un- 
der the name of the Method of prime and ultimate Ra- 
tios, sometimes under that of the Method of Limits. 

Method of Limits. The general spirit of the trans- 
cendental analysis, from this point of view, consists in 
introducing as auxiliaries, in the place of the primitive 
quantities, or concurrently with them, in order to facili- 
tate the establishment of equations, the limits of the ra- 
tios of the simultaneous increments of these quantities ; 
or, in other words, the final ratios of these increments ; 
limits or final ratios which can be easily shown to have 
a determinate and finite value. A special calculus, which 
is the equivalent of the infinitesimal calculus, is then 
employed to pass from the equations between these lim- 
its to the corresponding equations between the primitive 
quantities themselves. 


The power which is given by such an analysis, of ex- 
pressing with more ease the mathematical laws of phe- 
nomena, depends in general on this, that since the cal- 
culus applies, not to the increments themselves of the pro- 
posed quantities, but to the limits of the ratios of those 
increments, we can always substitute for each increment 
any other magnitude more easy to consider, provided that 
their final ratio is the ratio of equality, or, in other words, 
that the limit of their ratio is unity. It is clear, indeed, 
that the calculus of limits would be in no way affected 
by this substitution. Starting from this principle, we 
find nearly the equivalent of the facilities offered by the 
analysis of Leibnitz, which are then merely conceived un- 
der another point of view. Thus curves will be regard- 
ed as the limits of a series of rectilinear polygons, varia- 
ble motions as the limits of a collection of uniform mo- 
tions of constantly diminishing durations, and so on. 

EXAMPLES. 1. Tangents. Suppose, for example, that 
we wish to determine the direction of the tangent to a 
curve ; we will regard it as the limit towards which would 
tend a secant, which should turn about the given point 
so that its second point of intersection should indefinitely 
approach the first. Representing the differences of the co- 
ordinates of the two points by Ay and AX, we would have 
at each instant, for the trigonometrical tangent of the an- 
gle which the secant makes with the axis of abscissas, 

from which, taking the limits, we will obtain, relatively 
to the tangent itself, this general formula of transcen- 
dental analysis, Ay 


the characteristic L being employed to designate the limit. 
The calculus of indirect functions will show how to de- 
duce from this formula in each particular case, when the 
equation of the curve is given, the relation between t and 
x, by eliminating the auxiliary quantities which have 
been introduced. If we suppose, in order to complete the 
solution, that the equation of the proposed curve is y= ax 2 , 
we shall evidently have 

from which we shall obtain 

Now it is clear that the limit towards which the second 
number tends, in proportion as Ax diminishes, is 2ax. 
We shall therefore find, by this method, t=2ax, as we 
obtained it for the same case by the method of Leibnitz. 
2. Rectifications. In like manner, when the rectifica- 
tion of a curve is desired, we must substitute for the in- 
crement of the arc s the chord of this increment, which 
evidently has such a connexion with it that the limit 
of their ratio is unity ; and then we find (pursuing in 
other respects the same plan as with the method of Leib- 
nitz) this general equation of rectifications : 

/ ASV /_Ay\ s /_ 

( L ) =1+ ( L-L ) + ( L 

\ AX/ \ AX/ \ 


or = - L , 


according as the curve is plane or of double curvature. 
It will now be necessary, for each particular curve, to 
pass from this equation to that between the arc and the 
abscissa, which depends on the transcendental calculus 
properly so called. 


We could take up, with the same facility, by the 
method of limits, all the other general questions, the solu- 
tion of which has been already indicated according to the 
infinitesimal method. 

Such is, in substance, the conception which Newton 
formed for the transcendental analysis, or, more precise- 
ly, that which Maclaurin and D'Alembert have presented 
as the most rational basis of that analysis, in seeking to 
fix and to arrange the ideas of Newton upon that subject. 

Fluxions and Fluents. Another distinct form under 
which Newton has presented this same method should be 
here noticed, and deserves particularly to fix our atten- 
tion, as much by its ingenious clearness in some cases 
as by its having furnished the notation best suited to this 
manner of viewing the transcendental analysis, and, more- 
over, as having been till lately the special form of the cal- 
culus of indirect functions commonly adopted by the En- 
glish geometers. I refer to the calculus of fluxions and 
of fluents, founded on the general idea of velocities. 

To facilitate the conception of the fundamental idea, 
let us consider every curve as generated by a point im- 
pressed with a motion varying according to any law what- 
ever. The different quantities which the curve can pre- 
sent, the abscissa, the ordinate, the arc, the area, &c., 
will be regarded as simultaneously produced by successive 
degrees during this motion. The velocity with which 
each shall have been described will be called the fluxion 
of that quantity, which will be inversely named its flu- 
ent. Henceforth the transcendental analysis will con- 
sist, according to this conception, in forming directly the 
equations between the fluxions of the proposed quanti- 
ties, in order to deduce therefrom, by a special calculus, 


the equations between the fluents themselves. What 
has been stated respecting curves may, moreover, evi- 
dently be applied to any magnitudes whatever, regard- 
ed, by the aid of suitable images, as produced by motion. 
It is easy to understand the general and necessary 
identity of this method with that of limits complicated 
with the foreign idea of motion. In fact, resuming the 
case of the curve, if we suppose, as we evidently always 
may, that the motion of the describing point is uniform 
in a certain direction, that of the abscissa, for example, 
then the fluxion of the abscissa will be constant, like the 
element of the time ; for all the other quantities gener- 
ated, the motion cannot be conceived to be uniform, ex- 
cept for an infinitely small time. Now the velocity being 
in general according to its mechanical conception, the 
ratio of each space to the time employed in traversing it, 
and this time being here proportional to the increment of 
the abscissa, it follows that the fluxions of the ordinate, 
of the arc, of the area, &c., are really nothing else (re- 
jecting the intermediate consideration of time) than the 
final ratios of the increments of these different quantities 
to the increment of the abscissa. This method of flux- 
ions and fluents is, then, in reality, only a manner of 
representing, by a comparison borrowed from mechanics, 
the method of prime and ultimate ratios, which alone can 
be reduced to a calculus. It evidently, then, offers the 
same general advantages in the various principal appli- 
cations of the transcendental analysis, without its being 
necessary to present special proofs of this. 



Derived Functions. The conception of Lagrange, 
in its admirable simplicity, consists in representing the 
transcendental analysis as a great algebraic artifice, by 
which, in order to facilitate the establishment of equa- 
tions, we introduce, in the place of the primitive func- 
tions, or concurrently with them, their derived func- 
tions ; that is, according to the definition of Lagrange, 
the coefficient of the first term of the increment of each 
function, arranged according to the ascending powers of 
the increment of its variable. The special calculus of 
indirect functions has for its constant object, .here as 
well as in the conceptions of Leibnitz and of Newton, to 
eliminate these derivatives which have been thus em- 
ployed as auxiliaries, in order to deduce from their rela- 
tions the corresponding equations between the primitive 

An Extension of ordinary Analysis. The transcen- 
dental analysis is, then, nothing but a simple though very 
considerable extension of ordinary analysis. Geometers 
have long been accustomed to introduce in analytical in- 
vestigations, in the place of the magnitudes themselves 
which they wished to study, their different powers, or 
their logarithms, or their sines, &c., in order to simpli- 
fy the equations, and even to obtain them more easily. 
This successive derivation is an artifice of the same 
nature, only of greater extent, and procuring, in conse- 
quence, much more important resources for this common 

But, although we can readily conceive, a priori, that 
the auxiliary consideration of these derivatives may fa- 


cilitate the establishment of equations, it is not easy to 
explain why this must necessarily follow from this mode 
of derivation rather than from any other transformation. 
Such is the weak point of the great idea of Lagrange. 
The precise advantages of this analysis cannot as yet be 
grasped in an abstract manner, but only shown by con- 
sidering separately each principal question, so that the 
verification is often exceedingly laborious. 

EXAMPLE. Tangents. This manner of conceiving the 
transcendental analysis may be best illustrated by its ap- 
plication to the most simple of the problems above exam- 
ined that of tangents. 

Instead of conceiving the tangent as the prolongation 
of the infinitely small element of the curve, according to 
the notion of Leibnitz or as the limit of the secants, ac- 
cording to the ideas of Newton Lagrange considers it, 
according to its simple geometrical character, analogous 
to the definitions of the ancients, to be a right line such 
that no other right line can pass through the point of 
contact between it and the curve. Then, to determine 
its direction, we must seek the general expression of its 
distance from the curve, measured in any direction what- 
ever in that of the ordinate, for example and dispose 
of the arbitrary constant relating to the inclination of the 
right line, which will necessarily enter into that expres- 
sion, in such a way as to diminish that separation as much 
as possible. Now this distance, being evidently equal 
to the difference of the two ordinates of the curve and of 
the right line, which correspond to the same new abscissa 
x+h. will be represented by the formula 

in which designates, as above, the unknown trigonomet- 


rical tangent of the angle which the required line makes 
with the axis of abscissas, and f'(x) the derived function 
of the ordinate/(a;). This being understood, it is easy 
to see that, by disposing of t so as to make the first term 
of the preceding formula equal to zero, we will render the 
interval between the two lines the least possible, so that 
any other line for which t did not have the value thus 
determined would necessarily depart farther from the pro- 
posed curve. We have, then, for the direction of the tan- 
gent sought, the general expression t=f'(x), a result ex- 
actly equivalent to those furnished by the Infinitesimal 
Method and the Method of Limits. We have yet to find 
f'(x) in each particular curve, which is a mere question 
of analysis, quite identical with those which are present- 
ed, at this stage of the operations, by the other methods. 

After these considerations upon the principal general 
conceptions, we need not stop to examine some other the- 
ories proposed, such as Euler's Calculus of Vanishing- 
Quantities, which are really modifications more or less 
important, and, moreover, no longer used of the preced- 
ing methods. 

I have now to establish the comparison and the appre- 
ciation of these three fundamental methods. Their per- 
fect and necessary conformity is first to be proven in a 
general manner. 


It is, in the first place, evident from what precedes, 
considering these three methods as to their actual des- 
tination, independently of their preliminary ideas, that 
they all consist in the same general logical artifice, which 
has been characterized in the first chapter ; to wit, the 


introduction of a certain system of auxiliary magnitudes, 
having uniform relations to those which are the special 
objects of the inquiry, and substituted for them expressly 
to facilitate the analytical expression of the mathemati- 
cal laws of the phenomena, although they have finally to 
be eliminated by the aid of a special calculus. It is 
this which has determined me to regularly define the 
transcendental analysis as the calculus of indirect func- 
tions, in order to mark its true philosophical character, 
at the same time avoiding any discussion upon the best 
manner of conceiving and applying it. The general ef- 
fect of this analysis, whatever the method employed, is, 
then, to bring every mathematical question much more 
promptly within the power of the calculus, and thus to 
diminish considerably the serious difficulty which is usu- 
ally presented by the passage from the concrete to the ab- 
stract. Whatever progress we may make, we can never 
hope that the calculus will ever be able to grasp every 
question of natural philosophy, geometrical, or mechani- 
cal, or thermological, &c., immediately upon its birth, 
which would evidently involve a contradiction. Every 
problem will constantly require a certain preliminary la- 
bour to be performed, in which the calculus can be of no 
assistance, and which, by its nature, cannot be subject- 
ed to abstract and invariable rules ; it is that which has 
for its special object the establishment of equations, which 
form the indispensable starting point of all analytical re- 
searches. But this preliminary labour has been remarka- 
bly simplified by the creation of the transcendental analy- 
sis, which has thus hastened the moment af which the 
solution admits of the uniform and precise application of 
general and abstract methods ; by reducing, in each case, 


this special labour to the investigation of equations be- 
tween the auxiliary magnitudes ; from which the calculus 
then leads to equations directly referring to the proposed 
magnitudes, which, before this admirable conception, it 
had been necessary to establish directly and separately. 
Whether these indirect equations are differential equa- 
tions, according to the idea of Leibnitz, or equations of 
limits, conformably to the conception of Newton, or, lastly, 
derived equations, according to the theory of Lagrange, 
the general procedure is evidently always the same. 

But the coincidence of these three principal methods 
is not limited to the common effect which they produce ; 
it exists, besides, in the very manner of obtaining it. In 
fact, not only do all three consider, in the place of the 
primitive magnitudes, certain auxiliary ones, but, still 
farther, the quantities thus introduced as subsidiary are 
exactly identical in the three methods, which conse- 
quently differ only in the manner of viewing them. This 
can be easily shown by taking for the general term of 
comparison any one of the three conceptions, especially 
that of Lagrange, which is the most suitable to serve as 
a type, as being the freest from foreign considerations. 
Is it not evident, by the very definition of derived func- 
tions, that they are nothing else than what Leibnitz calls 
differential coefficients, or the ratios of the differential 
of each function to that of the corresponding variable, 
since, in determining the first differential, we will be 
obliged, by the very nature of the infinitesimal method, 
to limit ourselves to taking the only term of the incre- 
ment of tlfe function which contains the first power of 
the infinitely small increment of the variable ? In the 
same way, is not the derived function, by its nature, 


likewise the necessary limit towards which tends the ra- 
tio between the increment of the primitive function and 
that of its variable, in proportion as this last indefinitely 
diminishes, since it evidently expresses what that ratio 
becomes when we suppose the increment of the variable 


to equal zero ? That which is designated by in the 


method of Leibnitz ; that which ought to be noted as 


L in that of Newton ; and that which Lagrange has 


indicated by /'()) is constantly one same function, seen 
from three different points of view, the considerations 
of Leibnitz and Newton properly consisting in making 
known two general necessary properties of the derived 
function. The transcendental analysis, examined ab- 
stractedly and in its principle, is then always the same, 
whatever may be the conception which is adopted, and 
the procedures of the calculus of indirect functions are 
necessarily identical in these different methods, which in 
like manner must, for any application whatever, lead con- 
stantly to rigorously uniform results. 


If now we endeavour to estimate the comparative value 
of these three equivalent conceptions, we shall find in 
each advantages and inconveniences which are peculiar 
to it, and which still prevent geometers from confining 
themselves to any one of them, considered as final. 

That of Leibnitz. The conception of Leibnitz pre- 
sents incontestably, in all its applications, a very marked 
superiority, by leading in a much more rapid manner, 
and with much less mental effort, to the formation of 




equations between the auxiliary magnitudes. It is to its 
use that we owe the high perfection which has been ac- 
quired by all the general theories of geometry and me- 
chanics. Whatever may be the different speculative 
opinions of geometers with respect to the infinitesimal 
method, in an abstract point of view, all tacitly agree in 
employing it by preference, as soon as they have to treat 
a new question, in order not to complicate the necessary 
difficulty by this purely artificial obstacle proceeding from 
a misplaced obstinacy in adopting a less expeditious course. 
Lagrange himself, after having reconstructed the trans- 
cendental analysis on new foundations, has (with that 
noble frankness which so well suited his genius) rendered 
a striking and decisive homage to the characteristic prop- 
erties of the conception of Leibnitz, by following it ex- 
clusively in the entire system of his Mecanique Analy- 
tique. Such a fact renders any comments unnecessary. 
But when we consider the conception of Leibnitz in 
itself and in its logical relations, we cannot escape ad- 
mitting, with Lagrange, that it is radically vicious in 
this, that, adopting its own expressions, the notion of in- 
finitely small quantities is a false idea, of which it is in 
fact impossible to obtain a clear conception, however we 
may deceive ourselves in that matter. Even if we adopt 
the ingenious idea of the compensation of errors, as above 
explained, this involves the radical inconvenience of being 
obliged to distinguish in mathematics two classes of rea- 
sonings, those which are perfectly rigorous, and those in 
which we designedly commit errors which subsequently 
have to be compensated. A conception which leads to 
such strange consequences is undoubtedly very unsatis- 
factory in a logical point of view. 



To say, as do some geometers, that it is possible in 
every case to reduce the infinitesimal method to that of 
limits, the logical character of which is irreproachable, 
would evidently be to elude the difficulty rather than to 
remove it ; besides, such a transformation almost entire- 
ly strips the conception of Leibnitz of its essential ad- 
vantages of facility and rapidity. 

Finally, even disregarding the preceding important 
considerations, the infinitesimal method would no less 
evidently present by its nature the very serious defect of 
breaking the unity of abstract mathematics, by creating 
a transcendental analysis founded on principles so differ- 
ent from those which form the basis of the ordinary anal- 
ysis. This division of analysis into two worlds almost 
entirely independent of each other, tends to hinder the 
formation of truly general analytical conceptions. To 
fully appreciate the consequences of this, we should have 
to go back to the state of the science before Lagrange 
had established a general and complete harmony between 
these two great sections. 

That of Newton. Passing now to the conception of 
Newton, it is evident that by its nature it is not exposed 
to the fundamental logical objections which are called 
forth by the method of Leibnitz. The notion of limits 
is, in fact, remarkable for its simplicity and its precision. 
In the transcendental analysis presented in this manner, 
the equations are regarded as exact from their very ori- 
gin, and the general rules of reasoning are as constantly 
observed as in ordinary analysis. But, on the other 
hand, it is very far from offering such powerful resour- 
ces for the solution of problems as the infinitesimal meth- 
od. The obligation which it imposes, of never consider- 


ing the increments of magnitudes separately and by them- 
selves, nor even in their ratios, but only in the limits of 
those ratios, retards considerably the operations of the 
mind in the formation of auxiliary equations. We may 
even say that it greatly embarrasses the purely analyt- 
ical transformations. Thus the transcendental analysis, 
considered separately from its applications, is far from pre- 
senting in this method the extent and the generality which 
have been imprinted upon it by the conception of Leib- 
nitz. It is very difficult, for example, to extend the theo- 
ry of Newton to functions of several independent varia- 
bles. But it is especially with reference to its applica- 
tions that the relative inferiority of this theory is most 
strongly marked. 

Several Continental geometers, in adopting the method 
of Newton as the more logical basis of the transcendental 
analysis, have partially disguised this inferiority by a seri- 
ous inconsistency, which consists in applying to this meth- 
od the notation invented by Leibnitz for the infinitesi- 
mal method, and which is really appropriate to it alone. 


In designating by that which logically ought, in the 

theory of limits, to be denoted by L , and in extending 


to all the other analytical conceptions this displacement 
of signs, they intended, undoubtedly, to combine the spe- 
cial advantages of the two methods ; but, in reality, they 
have only succeeded in causing a vicious confusion be- 
tween them, a familiarity with which hinders the forma- 
tion of clear and exact ideas of either. It would cer- 
tainly be singular, considering this usage in itself, that, 
by the mere means of signs, it could be possible to effect 


a veritable combination between two theories so distinct 
as those under consideration. 

Finally, the method of limits presents also, though in 
a less degree, the greater inconvenience, which I have 
above noted in reference to the infinitesimal method, of 
establishing a total separation between the ordinary and 
the transcendental analysis ; for the idea of limits, though 
clear and rigorous, is none the less in itself, as Lagrange 
has remarked, a foreign idea, upon which analytical theo- 
ries ought not to be dependent. 

That of Lagrange. This perfect unity of analysis, 
and this purely abstract character of its fundamental no- 
tions, are found in the highest degree in the conception 
of Lagrange, and are found there alone ; it is, for this 
reason, the most rational and the most philosophical of 
all. Carefully removing every heterogeneous considera- 
tion, Lagrange has reduced the transcendental analysis 
to its true peculiar character, that of presenting a very 
extensive class of analytical transformations, which facil- 
itate in a remarkable degree the expression of the con- 
ditions of various problems. At the same time, this anal- 
ysis is thus necessarily presented as a simple extension 
of ordinary analysis ; it is only a higher algebra. All the 
different parts of abstract mathematics, previously so in- 
coherent, have from that moment admitted of being con- 
ceived as forming a single system. 

Unhappily, this conception, which possesses such fun- 
damental properties, independently of its so simple and 
so lucid notation, and which is undoubtedly destined to 
become the final theory of transcendental analysis, be- 
cause of its high philosophical superiority over all the 
other methods proposed, presents in its present state too 


many difficulties in its applications, as compaied with the 
conception of Newton, and still more with that of Leib- 
nitz, to be as yet exclusively adopted. Lagrange him- 
self has succeeded only with great difficulty in rediscov- 
ering, by his method, the principal results already obtain- 
ed by the infinitesimal method for the solution of the gen- 
eral questions of geometry and mechanics ; we may judge 
from that what obstacles would be found in treating in 
the same manner questions which were truly new and 
important. It is true that Lagrange, on several occa- 
sions, has shown that difficulties call forth, from men of 
genius, superior efforts, capable of leading to the greatest 
results. It was thus that, in trying to adapt his method 
to the examination of the curvature of lines, which seemed 
so far from admitting its application, he arrived at that 
beautiful theory of contacts which has so greatly per- 
fected that important part of geometry. But, in spite 
of such happy exceptions, the conception of Lagrange has 
nevertheless remained, as a whole, essentially unsuited 
to applications. 

The final result of the general comparison which I 
have too briefly sketched, is, then, as already suggested, 
that, in order to really understand the transcendental anal- 
ysis, we should not only consider it in its principles ac- 
cording to the three fundamental conceptions of Leib- 
nitz, of Newton, and of Lagrange, but should besides ac- 
custom ourselves to carry out almost indifferently, ac- 
cording to these three principal methods, and especially 
according to the first and the last, the solution of all im- 
portant questions, whether of the pure calculus of indirect 
functions or of its applications. This is a course which 
I could not too strongly recommend to all those who de- 


sire to judge philosophically of this admirable creation of 
the human mind, as well as to those who wish to learn 
to make use of this powerful instrument with success and 
with facility. In all the other parts of mathematical sci- 
ence, the consideration of different methods for a single 
class of questions may be useful, even independently of 
its historical interest, but it is not indispensable ; here, 
on the contrary, it is strictly necessary. 

Having determined with precision, in this chapter, the 
philosophical character of the calculus of indirect func- 
tions, according to the principal fundamental conceptions 
of which it admits, we have next to consider, in the fol- 
lowing chapter, the logical division and the general com- 
position of this calculus. 



THE calculus of indirect functions, in accordance with 
the considerations explained in the preceding chapter, is 
necessarily divided into two parts (or, more properly, is 
decomposed into two different calculi entirely distinct, 
although intimately connected by their nature), accord, 
ing as it is proposed to find the relations between the 
auxiliary magnitudes (the introduction of which consti- 
tutes the general spirit of this calculus) by means of the 
relations between the corresponding primitive magni- 
tudes ; or, conversely, to try to discover these direct 
equations by means of the indirect equations originally 
established. Such is, in fact, constantly the double ob- 
ject of the transcendental analysis. 

These two systems have received different names, ac- 
cording to the point of view under which this analysis 
has been regarded. The infinitesimal method, properly 
so called, having been the most generally employed for 
the reasons which have been given, almost all geome- 
ters employ habitually the denominations of Differen- 
tial Calculus and of Integral Calculus, established by 
Leibnitz, and which are, in fact, very rational conse- 
quences of his conception. Newton, in accordance with 
his method, named the first the Calculus of Fluxions, 
and the second the Calculus of Fluents, expressions which 
were commonly employed in England. Finally follow- 


ing the eminently philosophical theory founded by La- 
grange, one would be called the Calculus of Derived 
Functions, and the other the Calculus of Primitive 
Functions. I will continue to make use of the terms of 
Leibnitz, as being more convenient for the formation of 
secondary expressions, although I ought, in accordance 
with the suggestions made in the preceding chapter, to 
employ concurrently all the different conceptions, ap- 
proaching as nearly as possible to that of Lagrange. 


The differential calculus is evidently the logical ba- 
sis of the integral calculus ; for we do not and cannot 
know how to integrate directly any other differential ex- 
pressions than those produced by the differentiation of 
the ten simple functions which constitute the general ele- 
ments of our analysis. The art of integration consists, 
then, essentially in bringing all the other cases, as far as 
is possible, to finally depend on only this small number 
of fundamental integrations. 

In considering the whole body of the transcendental 
analysis, as I have characterized it in the preceding chap- 
ter, it is not at first apparent what can be the peculiar 
utility of the differential calculus, independently of this 
necessary relation with the integral calculus, which seems 
as if it must be, by itself, the only one directly indispen- 
sable. In fact, the elimination of the infinitesimals or 
of the derivatives, introduced as auxiliaries to facilitate 
the establishment of equations, constituting, as we have 
seen, the final and invariable object of the calculus of in- 
direct functions, it is natural to think that the calculus 
which teaches how to deduce from the equations between 


these auxiliary magnitudes, those which exist between the 
primitive magnitudes themselves, ought strictly to suffice 
for the general wants of the transcendental analysis with- 
out our perceiving, at the first glance, what special and 
constant part the solution of the inverse question can 
have in such an analysis. It would be a real error, though 
a common one, to assign to the differential calculus, in or- 
der to explain its peculiar, direct, and necessary influence, 
the destination of forming the differential equations, from 
which the integral calculus then enables us to arrive at 
the finite equations ; for the primitive formation of dif- 
ferential equations is not and cannot be, properly speak- 
ing, the object of any calculus, since, on the contrary, it 
forms by its nature the indispensable starting point of any 
calculus whatever. How, in particular, could the differ- 
ential calculus, which in itself is reduced to teaching the 
means of differentiating the different equations, be a 
general procedure for establishing them ? That which 
in every application of the transcendental analysis really 
facilitates the formation of equations, is the infinitesimal 
method, and not the infinitesimal calculus, which is per- 
fectly distinct from it, although it is its indispensable com- 
plement. Such a consideration would, then, give a false 
idea of the special destination which characterizes the dif- 
ferential calculus in the general system of the transcen- 
dental analysis. 

But we should nevertheless very imperfectly conceive 
the real peculiar importance of this first branch of the 
calculus of indirect functions, if we saw in it only a sim- 
ple preliminary labour, having no other general and es- 
sential object than to prepare indispensable foundations 
for the integral calculus. As the ideas on this matter 


are generally confused, I think that I ought here to ex- 
plain in a summary manner this important relation as I 
view it, and to show that in every application of the 
transcendental analysis a primary, direct, and necessary 
part is constantly assigned to the differential calculus. 

1. Use of the Differential Calculus as preparatory 
to that of the Integral. In forming the differential equa- 
tions of any phenomenon whatever, it is very seldom that 
we limit ourselves to introduce differentially only those 
magnitudes whose relations are sought. To impose that 
condition would be to uselessly diminish the resources 
presented by the transcendental analysis for the expres- 
sion of the mathematical laws of phenomena. Most fre- 
quently we introduce into the primitive equations, through 
their differentials, other magnitudes whose relations are 
already known or supposed to be so, and without the 
consideration of which it would be frequently impossible 
to establish equations. Thus, for example, in the gen- 
eral problem of the rectification of curves, the differen- 
tial equation, 

ds 2 =dy z +dx 2 , or ds z =dx z +dy z -\-dz z ^ 
is not only established between the desired function s and 
the independent variable z, to which it is referred, but, at 
the same time, there have been introduced, as indispen- 
sable intermediaries, the differentials of one or two other 
functions, y and z, which are among the data of the 
problem ; it would not have been possible to form directly 
the equation between ds and dx, which would, besides, 
be peculiar to each curve considered. It is the same for 
most questions. Now in these cases it is evident that 
the differential equation is not immediately suitable for 
integration. It is previously necessary that the differ- 


entials of the functions supposed to be known, which 
have been employed as intermediaries, should be entirely 
eliminated, in order that equations may be obtained be- 
tween the differentials of the functions which alone are 
sought and those of the really independent variables, af- 
ter which the question depends on only the integral cal- 
culus. Now this preparatory elimination of certain dif- 
ferentials, in order to reduce the infinitesimals to the 
smallest number possible, belongs simply to the differ- 
ential calculus ; for it must evidently be done by deter- 
mining, by means of the equations between the func- 
tions supposed to be known, taken as intermediaries, the 
relations of their differentials, which is merely a question 
of differentiation. Thus, for example, in the case of rec- 
tifications, it will be first necessary to calculate dy, or dy 
and dz, by differentiating the equation or the equations 
of each curve proposed ; after eliminating these expres- 
sions, the general differential formula above enunciated 
will then contain only ds and dx ; having arrived at this 
point, the elimination of the infinitesimals can be com- 
pleted only by the integral calculus. 

Such is, then, the general office necessarily belonging 
to the differential calculus in the complete solution of the 
questions which exact the employment of the transcen- 
dental analysis ; to produce, as far as is possible, the elim- 
ination of the infinitesimals, that is, to reduce in each 
case the primitive differential equations so that they shall 
contain only the differentials of the really independent 
variables, and those of the functions sought, by causing 
to disappear, by elimination, the differentials of all the 
other known functions which may have been taken as in- 
termediaries at the time of the formation of the differ- 


ential equations of the problem which is under consid- 

2. Employment of the Differential Calculus alone. 
For certain questions, which, although few in number, 
have none the less, as we shall see hereafter, a very great 
importance, the magnitudes which are sought enter di- 
rectly, and not by their differentials, into the primitive 
differential equations, which then contain differentially 
only the different known functions employed as interme- 
diaries, in accordance with the preceding explanation. 
These cases are the most favourable of all ; for it is evi- 
dent that the differential calculus is then entirely suffi- 
cient for the complete elimination of the infinitesimals, 
without the question giving rise to any integration. This 
is what occurs, for example, in the problem of tangents 
in geometry ; in that of velocities in mechanics, &c. 

3. Employment of the Integral Calculus alone. Fi- 
nally, some other questions, the number of which is also 
very small, but the importance of which is no less great, 
present a second exceptional case, which is in its nature 
exactly the converse of the preceding. They are those 
in which the differential equations are found to be im- 
mediately ready for integration, because they contain, at 
their first formation, only the infinitesimals which relate 
to the functions sought, or to the really independent va- 
riables, without its being necessary to introduce, differ- 
entially, other functions as intermediaries. If in these 
new cases we introduce these last functions, since, by hy- 
pothesis, they will enter directly and not by their differ- 
entials, ordinary algebra will suffice to eliminate them, 
and to bring the question to depend on only the integral 
calculus. The differential calculus will then have no 


special part in the complete solution of the problem, which 
will depend entirely upon the integral calculus. The 
general question of quadratures offers an important ex- 
ample of this, for the differential equation being then 
dA.=ydx, will become immediately fit for integration as 
soon as we shall have eliminated, by means of the equa- 
tion of the proposed curve, the intermediary function y, 
which does not enter into it differentially. The same 
circumstances exist in the problem of cubatures, and in 
some others equally important. 

Three classes of Questions hence resulting-. As a 
general result of the previous considerations, it is then 
necessary to divide into three classes the mathematical 
questions which require the use of the transcendental 
analysis ; the first class comprises the problems suscep- 
tible of being entirely resolved by means of the differen- 
tial calculus alone, without any need of the integral cal- 
culus ; the second, those which are, on the contrary, en- 
tirely dependent upon the integral calculus, without the 
differential calculus having any part in their solution ; 
lastly, in the third and the most extensive, which con- 
stitutes the normal case, the two others being only ex- 
ceptional, the differential and the integral calculus have 
each in their turn a distinct and necessary part in the 
complete solution of the problem, the former making the 
primitive differential equations undergo a preparation 
which is indispensable for the application of the latter. 
Such are exactly their general relations, of which too 
indefinite and inexact ideas are generally formed. 

Let us now take a general survey of the logical com- 
position of each calculus, beginning with the differential. 



In the exposition of the transcendental analysis, it is 
customary to intermingle with the purely analytical part 
(which reduces itself to the treatment of the abstract 
principles of differentiation and integration) the study of 
its different principal applications, especially those which 
concern geometry. This confusion of ideas, which is a 
consequence of the actual manner in which the science 
has been developed, presents, in the dogmatic point of 
view, serious inconveniences in this respect, that it makes 
it difficult properly to conceive either analysis or geom- 
etry. Having to consider here the most rational co-or- 
dination which is possible, I shall include, in the follow- 
ing sketch, only the calculus of indirect functions prop- 
erly so called, reserving for the portion of this volume 
which relates to the philosophical study of concrete math- 
ematics the general examination of its great geometri- 
cal and mechanical applications. 

Two Cases : explicit and implicit Functions. The 
fundamental division of the differential calculus, or of 
the general subject of differentiation, consists in distin- 
guishing two cases, according as the analytical functions 
which are to be differentiated are explicit or implicit ; 
from which flow two parts ordinarily designated by the 
names of differentiation of formulas and differentiation 
of equations. It is easy to understand, a priori, the 
importance of this classification. In fact, such a dis- 
tinction would be illusory if the ordinary analysis was 
perfect ; that is, if we knew how to resolve all equations 
algebraically, for then it would be possible to render 
every implicit function explicit ; and, by differentiating 


it in that state alone, the second part of the differential 
calculus would be immediately comprised in the first, 
without giving rise to any new difficulty. But the al- 
gebraical resolution of equations being, as we have seen, 
still almost in its infancy, and as yet impossible for most 
cases, it is plain that the case is very different, since 
we have, properly speaking, to differentiate a function 
without knowing it, although it is determinate. The 
differentiation of implicit functions constitutes then, by 
its nature, a question truly distinct from that presented 
by explicit functions, and necessarily more complicated. 
It is thus evident that we must commence with the dif- 
ferentiation of formulas, and reduce the differentiation 
of equations to this primary case by certain invariable 
analytical considerations, which need not be here men- 

These two general cases of differentiation are also dis- 
tinct in another point of view equally necessary, and too 
important to be left unnoticed. The relation which is 
obtained between the differentials is constantly more in- 
direct, in comparison with that of the finite quantities, 
in the differentiation of implicit functions than in that 
of explicit functions. We know, in fact, from the con- 
siderations presented by Lagrange on the general forma- 
tion of differential equations, that, on the one hand, the 
same primitive equation may give rise to a greater or 
less number of derived equations of very different forms, 
although at bottom equivalent, depending upon which of 
the arbitrary constants is eliminated, which is not the 
case in the differentiation of explicit formulas; and 
that, on the other hand, the unlimited system of the 
different primitive equations, which correspond to the 


same derived equation, presents a much more profound 
analytical variety than that of the different functions, 
which admit of one same explicit differential, and which 
are distinguished from each other only by a constant 
term. Implicit functions must therefore be regarded as 
being in reality still more modified by differentiation 
than explicit functions. We shall again meet with this 
consideration relatively to the integral calculus, where 
it acquires a preponderant importance. 

Two Sub-cases : A single Variable or several Varia- 
bles. Each of the two fundamental parts of the Differ- 
ential Calculus is subdivided into two very distinct theo- 
ries, according as we are required to differentiate func- 
tions of a single variable or functions of several inde- 
pendent variables. This second case is, by its nature, 
quite distinct from the first, and evidently presents more 
complication, even in considering only explicit functions, 
and still more those which are implicit. As to the rest, 
one of these cases is deduced from the other in a gen- 
eral manner, by the aid of an invariable and very simple 
principle, which consists in regarding the total differen- 
tial of a function which is produced by the simultaneous 
increments of the different independent variables which 
it contains, as the sum of the partial differentials which 
would be produced by the separate increment of each 
variable in turn, if all the others were constant. It is 
necessary, besides, carefully to remark, in connection 
with this subject, a new idea which is introduced by 
the distinction of functions into those of one variable 
and of several ; it is the consideration of these different 
special derived functions, relating to each variable sep- 
arately, and the number of which increases more and 



more in proportion as the order of the derivation becomes 
higher, and also when the variables become more nu- 
merous. It results from this that the differential rela- 
tions belonging to functions of several variables are, by 
their nature, both much more indirect, and especially 
much more indeterminate, than those relating to func- 
tions of a single variable. This is most apparent in the 
case of implicit functions, in which, in the place of the 
simple arbitrary constants which elimination causes to 
disappear when we form the proper differential equations 
for functions of a single variable, it is the arbitrary func- 
tions of the proposed variables which are then elimi- 
nated ; whence must result special difficulties when these 
equations come to be integrated. 

Finally, to complete this summary sketch of the dif- 
ferent essential parts of the differential calculus proper, 
I should add, that in the differentiation of implicit func- 
tions, whether of a single variable or of several, it is ne- 
cessary to make another distinction ; that of the case in 
which it is required to differentiate at once different 
functions of this kind, combined in certain primitive 
equations, from that in which all these functions are 

The functions are evidently, in fact, still more im- 
plicit in the first case than in the second, if we consider 
that the same imperfection of ordinary analysis, which 
forbids our converting every implicit function into an 
equivalent explicit function, in like manner renders us 
unable to separate the functions which enter simulta- 
neously into any system of equations. It is then ne- 
cessary to differentiate, not only without knowing how 
to resolve the primitive equations, but even without be- 


ing able to effect the proper eliminations among them, 
thus producing a new difficulty. 

Reduction of the whole to the Differentiation of the 
ten elementary Functions. Such, then, are the natural 
connection and the logical distribution of the different 
principal theories which compose the general system of 
differentiation. Since the differentiation of implicit 
functions is deduced from that of explicit functions by 
a single constant principle, and the differentiation of 
functions of several variables is reduced by another fixed 
principle to that of functions of a single variable, the 
whole of the differential calculus is finally found to rest 
upon the differentiation of explicit functions with a sin- 
gle variable, the only one which is ever executed direct- 
ly. Now it is easy to understand that this first theory, 
the necessary basis of the entire system, consists simply 
in the differentiation of the ten simple functions, which 
are the uniform elements of all our analytical combina- 
tions, and the list of which has been given in the first 
chapter, on page 51 ; for the differentiation of compound 
functions is evidently deduced, in an immediate and ne- 
cessary manner, from that of the simple functions which 
compose them. It is, then, to the knowledge of these 
ten fundamental differentials, and to that of the two gen- 
eral principles just mentioned, which bring under it all 
the other possible cases, that the whole system of differ- 
entiation is properly reduced. We see, by the combina- 
tion of these different considerations, how simple and 
how perfect is the entire system of the differential cal- 
culus. It certainly constitutes, in its logical relations, 
the most interesting spectacle which mathematical analy- 
sis can present to our understanding. 


Transformation of derived Functions for new Varia. 
bles. The general sketch which I have just summarily 
drawn would nevertheless present an important deficien- 
cy, if I did not here distinctly indicate a final theory, 
which forms, by its nature, the indispensable complement 
of the system of differentiation. It is that which has 
for its object the constant transformation of derived func- 
tions, as a result of determinate changes in the inde- 
pendent variables, whence results the possibility of re- 
ferring to new variables all the general differential for- 
mulas primitively established for others. This question 
is now resolved in the most complete and the most sim- 
ple manner, as are all those of which the differential 
calculus is composed. It is easy to conceive the gen- 
eral importance which it must have in any of the appli- 
cations of the transcendental analysis, the fundamental 
resources of which it may be considered as augmenting, 
by permitting us to chocse (in order to form the differ- 
ential equations, in the first place, with more ease) that 
system of independent variables which may appear to 
be the most advantageous, although it is not to be final- 
ly retained. It is thus, for example, that most of the 
principal questions of geometry are resolved much more 
easily by referring the lines and surfaces to rectilinear 
co-ordinates, and that we may, nevertheless, have occa- 
sion to express these lines, etc., analytically by the aid 
Bipolar co-ordinates, or in any other manner. We will 
then be able to commence the differential solution of the 
problem by employing the rectilinear system, but only 
as an intermediate step, from which, by the general the- 
ory here referred to, we can pass to the final system, 
which sometimes could not have been considered directly. 


Different Orders of Differentiation. In the logical 
classification of the differential calculus which has just 
been given, some may be inclined to suggest a serious 
omission, since I have not subdivided each of its four 
essential parts according to another general considera- 
tion, which seems at first view very important ; namely, 
that of the higher or lower order of differentiation. But 
it is easy to understand that this distinction has no real 
influence in the differential calculus, inasmuch as it does 
not give rise to any new difficulty. If, indeed, the dif- 
ferential calculus was not rigorously complete, that is, 
if we did not know how to differentiate at will any func- 
tion whatever, the differentiation to the second or higher 
order of each determinate function might engender spe- 
cial difficulties. But the perfect universality of the dif- 
ferential calculus plainly gives us the assurance of being 
able to differentiate, to any order whatever, all known 
functions whatever, the question reducing itself to a con- 
stantly repeated differentiation of the first order. This 
distinction, unimportant as it is for the differential cal- 
culus, acquires, however, a very great importance in the 
integral calculus, on account of the extreme imperfection 
of the latter. 

Analytical Applications. Finally, though this is not 
the place to consider the various applications of the dif- 
ferential calculus, yet an exception may be made for 
those which consist in the solution of questions which are 
purely analytical, which ought, indeed, to be logically 
treated in continuation of a system of differentiation, be- 
cause of the evident homogeneity of the considerations 
involved. These questions may be reduced to three es- 
sential ones. 


Firstly, the development into series of functions of 
one or more variables, or, more generally, the transform- 
ation of functions, which constitutes the most beautiful 
and the most important application of the differential cal- 
culus to general analysis, and which comprises, besides 
the fundamental series discovered by Taylor, the remark- 
able series discovered by Maclaurin, John Bernouilli, La- 
grange, &c. : 

Secondly, the general theory of maxima and minima 
values for any functions whatever, of one or more varia- 
bles ; one of the most interesting problems which anal- 
ysis can present, however elementary it may now have 
become, and to the complete solution of which the dif- 
ferential calculus naturally applies : 

Thirdly, the general determination of the true value 
of functions which present themselves under an indeter- 
minate appearance for certain hypotheses made on the 
values of the corresponding variables ; which is the least 
extensive and the least important of the three. 

The first question is certainly the principal one in all 
points of view ; it is also the most susceptible of receiv- 
ing a new extension hereafter, especially by conceiving, 
in a broader manner than has yet been done, the em- 
ployment of the differential calculus in the transforma- 
tion of functions, on which subject Lagrange has left 
some valuable hints. 

Having thus summarily, though perhaps too briefly, 
considered the chief points in the differential calculus, I 
now proceed to an equally rapid exposition of a syste- 
matic outline of the Integral Calculus, properly so called, 
that is, the abstract subject of integration. 



Its Fundamental Division. The fundamental divi- 
sion of the Integral Calculus is founded on the same prin- 
ciple as that of the Differential Calculus, in distinguishing 
the integration of explicit differential formulas, and the 
integration of implicit differentials or of differential equa- 
tions. The separation of these two cases is even much 
more profound in relation to integration than to differen- 
tiation. In the differential calculus, in fact, this dis- 
tinction rests, as we have seen, only on the extreme im- 
perfection of ordinary analysis. But, on the other hand, 
it is easy to see that, even though all equations could be 
algebraically resolved, differential equations would none 
the less constitute a case of integration quite distinct 
from that presented by the explicit differential formulas ; 
for, limiting ourselves, for the sake of simplicity, to the 
first order, and to a single function y of a single variable 
x, if we suppose any differential equation between x, y, 

dy dy 

and , to be resolved with reference to , the expres- 
dx dx 

sion of the derived function being then generally found 
to contain the primitive function itself, which is the ob- 
ject of the inquiry, the question of integration will not 
have at all changed its nature, and the solution will not 
really have made any other progress than that of having 
brought the proposed differential equation to be of only 
the first degree relatively to the derived function, which 
is in itself of little importance. The differential would 
not then be determined in a manner much less implicit 
than before, as regards the integration, which would con- 
tinue to present essentially the same characteristic diffi- 


culty. The algebraic resolution of equations could not 
make the case which we are considering come within the 
simple integration of explicit differentials, except in the 
special cases in which the proposed differential equation 
did not contain the primitive function itself, which would 

consequently permit us, by resolving it, to find in 


terms of x only, and thus to reduce the question to the 
class of quadratures. Still greater difficulties would evi- 
dently be found in differential equations of higher orders, 
or containing simultaneously different functions of sev- 
eral independent variables. 

The integration of differential equations is then ne- 
cessarily more complicated than that of explicit differen- 
tials, by the elaboration of which last the integral calculus 
has been created, and upon which the others have been 
made to depend as far as it has been possible. All the 
various analytical methods which have been proposed for 
integrating differential equations, whether it be the sep- 
aration of the variables, the method of multipliers, &c., 
have in fact for their object to reduce these integrations 
to those of differential formulas, the only one which, by its 
nature, can be undertaken directly. Unfortunately, im- 
perfect as is still this necessary base of the whole integral 
calculus, the art of reducing to it the integration of dif- 
ferential equations is still less advanced. 

Subdivisions : one variable or several. Each of these 
two fundamental branches of the integral calculus is next 
subdivided into two others (as in the differential calcu- 
lus, and for precisely analogous reasons), according as we 
consider functions with a single variable, or functions 
with several independent variables. 


This distinction is, like the preceding one, still more 
important for integration than for differentiation. This 
is especially remarkable in reference to differential equa- 
tions. Indeed, those which depend on several indepen- 
dent variables may evidently present this characteristic 
and much more serious difficulty, that the desired func- 
tion may be differentially denned by a simple relation be- 
tween its different special derivatives relative to the dif- 
ferent variables taken separately. Hence results the 
most difficult and also the most extensive branch of the 
integral calculus, which is commonly named the Inte- 
gral Calculus of partial differences, created by D'Alem- 
bert, and in which, according to the just appreciation of 
Lagrange, geometers ought to have seen a really new 
calculus, the philosophical character of which has not yet 
been determined with sufficient exactness. A very stri- 
king difference between this case and that of equations 
with a single independent variable consists, as has been 
already observed, in the arbitrary functions which take 
the place of the simple arbitrary constants, in order to give 
to the corresponding integrals all the proper generality. 

It is scarcely necessary to say that thfs higher branch 
of transcendental analysis is still entirely in its infancy, 
since, even in the most simple case, that of an equation 
of the first order between the partial derivatives of a sin- 
gle function with two independent variables, we are not 
yet completely able to reduce the integration to that of 
the ordinary differential equations. The integration of 
functions of several variables is much farther advanced 
in the case (infinitely more simple indeed) in which it 
has to do with only explicit differential formulas. We 
can then, in fact, when these formulas fulfil the neces- 


sary conditions of integrability, always reduce their in- 
tegration to quadratures. 

Other Subdivisions : different Orders of Differentia- 
tion. A new general distinction, applicable as a subdi- 
vision to the integration of explicit or implicit differen- 
tials, with one variable or several, is drawn from the high- 
er or lower order of the differentials : a distinction which, 
as we have above remarked, does not give rise to any 
special question in the differential calculus. 

Relatively to explicit differentials, whether of one va- 
riable or of several, the necessity of distinguishing their 
different orders belongs only to the extreme imperfection 
of the integral calculus. In fact, if we could always in- 
tegrate every differential formula of the first order, the 
integration of a formula of the second order, or of any 
other, would evidently not form a new question, since, by 
integrating it at first 'in the first degree, we would arrive 
at the differential expression of the immediately prece- 
ding order, from which, by a suitable series of analogous 
integrations, we would be certain of finally arriving at 
the primitive function, the final object of these opera- 
tions. But the little knowledge which we possess on in- 
tegration of even the first order causes quite another state 
of affairs, so that a higher order of differentials produces 
new difficulties ; for, having differential formulas of any 
order above the first, it may happen that we may be able 
to integrate them, either once, or several times in suc- 
cession, and that we may still be unable to go back to 
the primitive functions, if these preliminary labours have 
produced, for the differentials of a lower order, expres- 
sions whose integrals are not known. This circumstance 
must occur so much the oftener (the number of known 


integrals being still very small), seeing that these suc- 
cessive integrals are generally very different functions 
from the derivatives which have produced them. 

With reference to implicit differentials, the distinc- 
tion of orders is still more important ; for, besides the 
preceding reason, the influence of which is evidently 
analogous in this case, and is even greater, it is easy to 
perceive that the higher order of the differential equa- 
tions necessarily gives rise to questions of a new nature. 
In fact, even if we could integrate every equation of the 
first order relating to a single function, that would not 
be sufficient for obtaining the final integral of an equa- 
tion of any order whatever, inasmuch as every differential 
equation is not reducible to that of an immediately in- 
ferior order. Thus, for example, if we have given any 

/7'T* fj 1] 

relation between x, y. , and . to determine a func- 



tion y of a variable x, we shall not be able to deduce 
from it at once, after effecting a first integration, the 


corresponding differential relation between x, y, and , 

from which, by a second integration, we could ascend 
to the primitive equations. This would not necessarily 
take place, at least without introducing new auxiliary 
functions, unless the proposed equation of the second or- 
der did not contain the required function y, together with 
its derivatives. As a general principle, differential equa- 
tions will have to be regarded as presenting cases which 
are more and more implicit, as they are of a higher or- 
der, and which cannot be made to depend on one another 
except by special methods, the investigation of which 
consequently forms a new class of questions, with re- 


spect to which we as yet know scarcely any thing, even 
for functions of a single variable.* 

Another equivalent distinction. Still farther, when 
we examine more profoundly this distinction of different 
orders of differential equations, we find that it can be 
always made to come under a final general distinction, 
relative to differential equations, which remains to be 
noticed. Differential equations with one or more inde- 
pendent variables may contain simply a single function, 
or (in a case evidently more complicated and more im- 
plicit, which corresponds to the differentiation of simul- 
taneous implicit functions) we may have to determine 
at the same time several functions from the differential 
equations in which they are found united, together with 
their different derivatives. It is clear that such a state 
of the question necessarily presents a new special diffi- 
culty, that of separating the different functions desired, 
by forming for each, from the proposed differential equa- 
tions, an isolated differential equation which does not 
contain the other functions or their derivatives. This 
preliminary labour, which is analogous to the elimina- 
tion of algebra, is evidently indispensable before attempt- 
ing any direct integration, since we cannot undertake 
generally (except by special artifices which are very 
rarely applicable) to determine directly several distinct 
functions at once. 

Now it is easy to establish the exact and necessary 
coincidence of this new distinction with the preceding 

The only important case of this class which has thus far been com- 
pletely treated is the general integration of linear equations of any order 
whatever, with constant coefficients. Even this case finally depends on 
the algebraic resolution of equations of a degree equal to the order of dif- 


one respecting the order of differential equations. We 
know, in fact, that the general method for isolating func- 
tions in simultaneous differential equations consists es- 
sentially in forming differential equations, separately in 
relation to each function, and of an order equal to the 
sum of all those of the different proposed equations. 
This transformation can always be effected. On the 
other hand, every differential equation of any order in 
relation to a single function might evidently always be 
reduced to the first order, by introducing a suitable num- 
ber of auxiliary differential equations, containing at the 
same time the different anterior derivatives regarded as 
new functions to be determined. This method has, in- 
deed, sometimes been actually employed with success, 
though it is not the natural one. 

Here, then, are two necessarily equivalent orders of 
conditions in the general theory of differential equations ; 
the simultaneousness of a greater or smaller number of 
functions, and the higher or lower order of differentia- 
tion of a single function. By augmenting the order of 
the differential equations, we can isolate all the func- 
tions ; and, by artificially multiplying the number of 
the functions, we can reduce all the equations to the 
first order. There is, consequently, in both cases, only 
one and the same difficulty from two different points of 
sight. But, however we may conceive it, this new dif- 
ficulty is none the less real, and constitutes none the 
less, by its nature, a marked separation between the in- 
tegration of equations of the first order and that of equa- 
tions of a higher order. I prefer to indicate the dis- 
tinction -under this last form as being more simple, more 
general, and more logical. 


Quadratures. From the different considerations 
which have been indicated respecting the logical depend- 
ence of the various principal parts of the integral cal- 
culus, we see that the integration of explicit differential 
formulas of the first order and of a single variable is the 
necessary basis of all other integrations, which we never 
succeed in effecting but so far as we reduce them to this 
elementary case, evidently the only one which, by its 
nature, is capable of being treated directly. This sim- 
ple fundamental integration is often designated by the 
convenient expression of quadratures, seeing that every 
integral of this kind, Sf(x)dx, may, in fact, be regarded 
as representing the area of a curve, the equation of which 
in rectilinear co-ordinates would be y=f(x\. Such a 
class of questions corresponds, in the differential calculus, 
to the elementary case of the differentiation of explicit 
functions of a single variable. But the integral ques- 
tion is, by its nature, very differently complicated, and 
especially much more extensive than the differential 
question. This latter is, in fact, necessarily reduced, as 
we have seen, to the differentiation of the ten simple 
functions, the elements of all which are considered in 
analysis. On the other hand, the integration of com- 
pound functions does not necessarily follow from that of 
the simple functions, each combination of which may 
present special difficulties with respect to the integral 
calculi^. Hence results the naturally indefinite extent, 
and the so varied complication of the question of quadra- 
tures, upon which, in spite of all the efforts of analysts, 
we still possess so little complete knowledge. 

In decomposing this question, as is natural, according 
to the different forms which may be assumed by the 


derivative function, we distinguish the case of algebraic 
functions and that of transcendental functions. 

Integration of Transcendental Functions. Th<, tiuly 
analytical integration of transcendental functions is as 
yet very little advanced, whether for exponential, or for 
logarithmic, or for circular functions. But a very small 
number of cases of these three different kinds have as 
yet been treated, and those chosen from among the sim- 
plest ; and still the necessary calculations are in most 
cases extremely laborious. A circumstance which we 
ought particularly to remark in its philosophical con- 
nection is, that the different procedures of quadrature 
have no relation to any general view of integration, and 
consist of simple artifices very incoherent with each other, 
and very numerous, because of the very limited extent 
of each. 

One of these artifices should, however, here be no- 
ticed, which, without being really a method of integra- 
tion, is nevertheless remarkable for its generality ; it is 
the procedure invented by John Bernouilli, and known 
under the name of integration by parts, by means of 
which every integral may be reduced to another which 
is sometimes found to be more easy to be obtained. 
This ingenious relation deserves to be noticed for anothei 
reason, as having suggested the first idea of that trans- 
formation of integrals yet unknown, which has lately 
received a greater extension, and of which M. Fourier 
especially has made so new and important a use in the 
analytical questions produced by the theory of heat. 

Integration of Algebraic Functions. As to the in- 
tegration of algebraic functions, it is farther advanced. 
However, we know scarcely any thing in relation to irra- 


tional functions, the integrals of which have been obtain- 
ed only in extremely limited cases, and particularly by 
rendering them rational. The integration of rational 
functions is thus far the only theory of the integral cal- 
culus which has admitted of being treated in a truly com- 
plete manner ; in a logical point of view, it forms, then, 
its most satisfactory part, but perhaps also the least im- 
portant. It is even essential to remark, in order to have 
a just idea of the extreme imperfection of the integral 
calculus, that this case, limited as it is, is not entirely 
resolved except for what properly concerns integration 
viewed in an abstract manner ; for, in the execution, the 
theory finds its progress most frequently quite stopped, 
independently of the complication of the calculations, by 
the imperfection of ordinary analysis, seeing that it 
makes the integration finally depend upon the algebraic 
resolution of equations, which greatly limits its use. 

To grasp in a general manner the spirit of the differ- 
ent procedures which are employed in quadratures, we 
must observe that, by their nature, they can be primi- 
tively founded only on the differentiation of the ten sim- 
ple functions. The results of this, conversely considered, 
establish as many direct theorems of the integral calcu- 
lus, the only ones which can be directly known. All the 
art of integration afterwards consists, as has been said 
in the beginning of this chapter, in reducing all the oth- 
er quadratures, so far as is possible, to this small num- 
ber of elementary ones, which unhappily we are in most 
cases unable to effect. 

Singular Solutions. In this systematic enumeration 
of the various essential parts of the integral calculus, con- 
sidered in their logical relations, I have designedly neg- 


lected (in order not to break the chain of sequence) to 
consider a very important theory, which forms implicitly 
a portion of the general theory of the integration of dif- 
ferential equations, but which I ought here to notice sep- 
arately, as being, so to speak, outside of the integral cal- 
culus, and being nevertheless of the greatest interest, both 
by its logical perfection and by the extent of its appli- 
cations. I refer to what are called Singular Solutions 
of differential equations, called sometimes, but improp- 
erly, particular solutions, which have been the subject 
of very remarkable investigations by Euler and Laplace, 
and of which Lagrange especially has presented such a 
beautiful and simple general theory. Clairaut, who first 
had occasion to remark their existence, saw in them a 
paradox of the integral calculus, since these solutions 
have the peculiarity of satisfying the differential equa- 
tions without being comprised in the corresponding gen- 
eral integrals. Lagrange has since explained this par- 
adox in the most ingenious and most satisfactory man- 
ner, by showing how such solutions are always derived 
from the general integral by the variation of the arbi- 
trary constants. He was also the first to suitably ap- 
preciate the importance of this theory, and it is with 
good reason that he devoted to it so full a development 
in his "Calculus of Functions." In a logical point of 
view, this theory deserves all our attention by the char- 
acter of perfect generality which it admits of, since La- 
grange has given invariable and very simple procedures 
for finding the singular solution of any differential equa- 
tion which is susceptible of it ; and, what is- no less re- 
markable, these procedures require no integration, con- 
sisting only of differentiations, and are therefore always 



applicable. Differentiation has thus become, by a hap- 
py artifice, a means of compensating, in certain circum- 
stances, for the imperfection of the integral calculus. 
Indeed, certain problems especially require, by their na- 
ture, the knowledge of these singular solutions ; such, 
for example, in geometry, are all the questions in which 
a curve is to be determined from any property of its tan- 
gent or its osculating circle. In all cases of this kind, 
after having expressed this property by a differential 
equation, it will be, in its analytical relations, the sin- 
gular equation which will form the most important ob- 
ject of the inquiry, since it alone will represent the re- 
quired curve; the general integral, which thenceforth it 
becomes unnecessary to know, designating only the sys- 
tem of the tangents, or of the osculating circles of this 
curve. We may hence easily understand all the impor- 
tance of this theory, which seems to me to be not as yet 
sufficiently appreciated by most geometers. 

Definite Integrals. Finally, to complete our review 
of the vast collection of analytical researches of which is 
composed the integral calculus, properly so called, there 
remains to be mentioned one theory, very important in 
all the applications of the transcendental analysis, which 
I have had to leave outside of the system, as not being 
really destined for veritable integration, and proposing, on 
the contrary, to supply the place of the knowledge of truly 
analytical integrals, which are most generally unknown. 
I refer to the determination of definite integrals. 

The expression, always possible, of integrals in infi- 
nite series, may at first be viewed as a happy general 
means of compensating for the extreme imperfection of 
the integral calculus. But the employment of such se- 


ries, because of their complication, and of the difficulty 
of discovering the law of their terms, is commonly of only 
moderate utility in the algebraic point of view, although 
sometimes very essential relations have been thence de- 
duced. It is particularly in the arithmetical point of 
view that this procedure acquires a great importance, as 
a means of calculating what are called definite integrals, 
that is, the values of the required functions for certain 
determinate values of the corresponding variables. 

An inquiry of this nature exactly corresponds, in trans- 
cendental analysis, to the numerical resolution of equa- 
tions in ordinary analysis. Being generally unable to 
obtain the veritable integral named by opposition the 
general or indefinite integral ; that is, the function which, 
differentiated, has produced the proposed differential form- 
ula analysts have been obliged to employ themselves 
in determining at least, without knowing this function, 
the particular numerical values which it would take on 
assigning certain designated values to the variables. 
This is evidently resolving the arithmetical question 
without having previously resolved the corresponding al- 
gebraic one, which most generally is the most impor- 
tant one. Such an analysis is, then, by its nature, as 
imperfect as we have seen the numerical resolution of 
equations to be. It presents, like this last, a vicious 
confusion of arithmetical and algebraic considerations, 
whence result analogous inconveniences both in the 
purely logical point of view and in the applications. 
We need not here repeat the considerations suggested in 
our third chapter. But it will be understood that, un- 
able as we almost always are to obtain the true inte- 
grals, it is of the highest importance to have been able 


to obtain this solution, incomplete and necessarily insuf- 
ficient as it is. Now this has been fortunately attained 
at the present day for all cases, the determination of 
the value of definite integrals having been reduced to 
entirely general methods, which leave nothing to desire, 
in a great number of cases, but less complication in the 
calculations, an object towards which are at present di- 
rected all the special transformations of analysts. Re- 
garding now this sort of transcendental arithmetic as 
perfect, the difficulty in the applications is essentially 
reduced to making the proposed research depend, finally, 
on a simple determination of definite integrals, which 
evidently cannot always be possible, whatever analyti- 
cal skill may be employed in effecting such a transfor- 

Prospects of the Integral Calculus. From the con- 
siderations indicated in this chapter, we see that, while 
the differential calculus constitutes by its nature a limited 
and perfect system, to which nothing essential remains 
to be added, the integral calculus, or the simple system 
of integration, presents necessarily an inexhaustible field 
for the activity of the human mind, independently of 
the indefinite applications of which the transcendental 
analysis is evidently susceptible. The general argu- 
ment by which I have endeavoured, in the second chap- 
ter, to make apparent the impossibility of ever discover- 
ing the algebraic solution of equations of any degree and 
form whatsoever, has undoubtedly infinitely more force 
with regard to the search for a single method of integra- 
tion, invariably applicable to all cases. " It is," says 
Lagrange, "one of those problems whose general solu- 
tion we cannot hope for." The more we meditate on 


this subject, the more we will be convinced that such a 
research is utterly chimerical, as being far above the fee- 
ble reach of our intelligence ; although the labours of 
geometers must certainly augment hereafter the amount 
of our knowledge respecting integration, and thus create 
methods of greater generality. The transcendental anal- 
ysis is still too near its origin there is especially too 
little time since it has been conceived in a truly rational 
manner for us now to be able to have a correct idea of 
what it will hereafter become. But, whatever should be 
our legitimate hopes, let us not forget to consider, before 
all, the limits which are imposed by our intellectual con- 
stitution, and which, though not susceptible of a precise 
determination, have none the less an incontestable reality. 

I am induced to think that, when geometers shall have 
exhausted the most important applications of our present 
transcendental analysis, instead of striving to impress 
upon it, as now conceived, a chimerical perfection, they 
will rather create new resources by changing the mode 
of derivation of the auxiliary quantities introduced in 
order to facilitate the establishment of equations, and 
the formation of which might follow an infinity of other 
laws besides the very simple relation which has been 
chosen, according to the conception suggested in the first 
chapter. The resources of this nature appear to me sus- 
ceptible of a much greater fecundity than those which 
would consist of merely pushing farther our present cal- 
culus of indirect functions. It is a suggestion which I 
submit to the geometers who have turned their thoughts 
towards the general philosophy of analysis. 

Finally, although, in the summary exposition which 
was the object of this chapter, I have had to exhibit the 


condition of extreme imperfection which still belongs to 
the integral calculus, the student would have a false idea 
of the general resources of the transcendental analysis if 
he gave that consideration too great an importance. It 
is with it, indeed, as with ordinary analysis, in which a 
very small amount of fundamental knowledge respecting 
the resolution of equations has been employed with an 
immense degree of utility. Little advanced as geome- 
ters really are as yet in the science of integrations, they 
have nevertheless obtained, from their scanty abstract 
conceptions, the solution of a multitude of questions of 
the first importance in geometry, in mechanics, in ther- 
mology, &c. The philosophical explanation of this 
double general fact results from the necessarily prepon- 
derating importance and grasp of abstract branches of 
knowledge, the least of which is naturally found to cor- 
respond to a crowd of concrete researches, man having 
no other resource for the successive extension of his in- 
tellectual means than in the consideration of ideas more 
and more abstract, and still positive. 

In order to finish the complete exposition of the phil- 
osophical character of the transcendental analysis, there 
remains to be considered a final conception, by which 
the immortal Lagrange has rendered this analysis still 
better adapted to facilitate the establishment of equations 
in the most difficult problems, by considering a class of 
equations still more indirect than the ordinary differen- 
tial equations. It is the Calculus, or, rather, the Method 
of Variations ; the general appreciation of which will be 
our next subject. 



IN order to grasp with more ease the philosophical 
character of the Method of Variations, it will be well to 
begin by considering in a summary manner the special 
nature of the problems, the general resolution of which 
has rendered necessary the formation of this hyper-trans- 
cendental analysis. It is still too near its origin, and 
its applications have been too few, to allow us to obtain 
a sufficiently clear general idea of it from a purely ab- 
stract exposition of its fundamental theory. 


The mathematical questions which have given birth 
to the Calculus of Variations consist generally in the 
investigation of the maxima and minima of certain in- 
determinate integral formulas, which express the ana- 
lytical law of such or such a phenomenon of geometry 
or mechanics, considered independently of any particular 
subject. Geometers for a long time designated all the 
questions of this character by the common name of Iso- 
perimetrical Problems, which, however, is really suita- 
ble to only the smallest number of them. 

Ordinary Questions of Maxima and Minima. In 
the common theory of maxima and minima, it is pro- 
posed to discover, with reference to a given function of 
one or more variables, what particular values must be 
assigned to these variables, in order that the correspond- 


ing value of the proposed function may be a maximum 
or a minimum with respect to those values which im- 
mediately precede and follow it ; that is, properly speak- 
ing, we seek to know at what instant the function ceases 
to increase and commences to decrease, or reciprocally. 
The differential calculus is perfectly sufficient, as we 
know, for the general resolution of this class of ques- 
tions, by showing that the values of the different varia- 
bles, which suit either the maximum or minimum, must 
always reduce to zero the different first derivatives of 
the given function, taken separately with reference to 
each independent variable, and by indicating, moreover, 
a suitable characteristic for distinguishing the maximum 
from the minimum ; consisting, in the case of a function 
of a single variable, for example, in the derived function 
of the second order taking a negative value for the max- 
imum, and a positive value for the minimum. Such 
are the well-known fundamental conditions belonging to 
the greatest number of cases. 

A new Class of Questions. The construction of this 
general theory having necessarily destroyed the chief 
interest which questions of this kind had for geometers, 
they almost immediately rose to the consideration of a 
new order of problems, at once much more important and 
of much greater difficulty those of isoperimeters. It 
is, then, no longer the values of the variables belonging 
to the maximum or the minimum of a given function 
that it is required to determine. It is the form of the 
function itself which is required to be discovered, from 
the condition of the maximum or of the minimum of a 
certain definite integral, merely indicated, which depends 
upon that function. 


Solid of least Resistance. The oldest question of 
this nature is that of the solid of least resistance, treat- 
ed by Newton in the second book of the Principia, in 
which he determines what ought to be the meridian 
curve of a solid of revolution, in order that the resistance 
experienced by that body in the direction of its axis 
may be th least possible. But the course pursued by 
Newton, from the nature of his special method of trans- 
cendental analysis, had not a character sufficiently sim- 
ple, sufficiently general, and especially sufficiently ana- 
lytical, to attract geometers to this new order of prob- 
lems. To effect this, the application of the infinitesimal 
method was needed ; and this was done, in 1695, by 
John Bernoulli, in proposing the celebrated problem of 
the Brachystochrone. 

This problem, which afterwards suggested such a long 
series of analogous questions, consists in determining 
the curve which a heavy body must follow in order to 
descend from one point to another in the shortest possi- 
ble time. Limiting the conditions to the simple fall 
in a vacuum, the only case which was at first consid- 
ered, it is easily found that the required curve must be 
a reversed cycloid with a horizontal base, and with its 
origin at the highest point. But the question may be- 
come singularly complicated, either by taking into ac- 
count the resistance of the medium, or the change in the 
intensity of gravity. 

Isoperimeters. Although this new class of problems 
was in the first place furnished by mechanics, it is in 
geometry that the principal investigations of this char- 
acter were subsequently made. Thus it was proposed 
to discover which, among all the curves of the same con- 


tour traced between two given points, is that whose area 
is a maximum or minimum, whence has come the name 
of Problem of Isoperimeters ; or it was required that 
the maximum or minimum should belong to the surface 
produced by the revolution of the required curve about 
an axis, or to the corresponding volume ; in other cases, 
it was the vertical height of the center of gravity of the 
unknown curve, or of the surface and of the volume 
which it might generate, which was to become a maxi- 
mum or minimum, &c. Finally, these problems were 
varied and complicated almost to infinity by the Ber- 
nouillis, by Taylor, and especially by Euler, before La- 
grange reduced their solution to an abstract and en- 
tirely general method, the discovery of which has put a 
stop to the enthusiasm of geometers for such an order of 
"inquiries. This is not the place for tracing the history 
of this subject. I have only enumerated some of the 
simplest principal questions, in order to render apparent 
the original general object of the method of variations. 

Analytical Nature of these Problems. We see that 
all these problems, considered in an analytical point of 
view, consist, by their nature, in determining what form 
a certain unknown function of one or more variables 
ought to have, in order that such or such an integral, 
dependent upon that function, shall have, within assign- 
ed limits, a value which is a maximum or a minimum 
with respect to all those which it would take if the re- 
quired function had any other form whatever. 

Thus, for example, in the problem of the brachysto- 
chrone, it is well known that if y=f(z), x=<j>(z), are the 
rectilinear equations of the required curve, supposing 
the axes of x and of y to be horizontal, and the axis of 


z to be vertical, the time of the fall of a heavy body in 
that curve from the point whose ordinate is z v to that 
whose ordinate is s^ is expressed in general terms by 
the definite integral 

*))'+(*'(*) )V^ 

It is, then, necessary to find what the two unknown 
functions / and </> must be, in order that this integral 
may be a minimum. 

In the same way, to demand what is the curve among 
all plane isoperimetrical curves, which' includes the great- 
est area, is the same thing as to propose to find, among 
all the functions f(x) which can give a certain constant 
value to the integral 

that one which renders the integral f f(x\dx, taken be- 
tween the same limits, a maximum. It is evidently al- 
ways so in other questions of this class. 

Methods of the older Geometers. In the solutions 
which geometers before Lagrange gave of these prob- 
lems, they proposed, in substance, to reduce them to the 
ordinary theory of maxima and minima. But the means 
employed to effect this transformation consisted in spe- 
cial simple artifices peculiar to each case, and the dis- 
covery of which did not admit of invariable and certain 
rules, so that every really new question constantly re- 
produced analogous difficulties, without the solutions pre- 
viously obtained being really of any essential aid, other- 
wise than by their discipline and training of the mind. 
In a word, this branch of mathematics presented, then, 
the necessary imperfection which always exists when the 
part common to all questions of the same class has not 


yet been distinctly grasped in order to be treated in an 
abstract and thenceforth general manner. 


Lagrange, in endeavouring to bring all the different 
problems of isoperimeters to depend upon a common anal- 
ysis, organized into a distinct calculus, was led to con- 
ceive a new kind of differentiation, to which he has ap- 
plied the characteristic 8, reserving the characteristic d 
for the common differentials. These differentials of a 
new species, which he has designated under the name of 
Variations, consist of the infinitely small increments 
which the integrals receive, not by virtue of analogous 
increments on the part of the corresponding variables, as 
in the ordinary transcendental analysis, but by supposing 
that the form of the function placed under the sign of 
integration undergoes an infinitely small change. This 
distinction is easily conceived with reference to curves, 
in which we see the ordinate, or any other variable of 
the curve, admit of two sorts of differentials, evidently 
very different, according as we pass from one point to an- 
other infinitely near it on the same curve, or to the cor- 
responding point of the infinitely near curve produced by 
a certain determinate modification of the first curved It 
is moreover clear, that the relative variations of differ- 
ent magnitudes connected with each other by any laws 
whatever are calculated, all but the characteristic, almost 
exactly in the same manner as the differentials. Finally, 

* Leibnitz had already considered the comparison of one curve with an 
other infinitely near to it, calling it " Differential de curva in curvam." 
But this comparison had no analogy with the conception of Lagrange, the 
curves of Leibnitz being embraced in the same general equation, from which 
they were deduced by the simple change of an arbitrary constant. 


from the general notion of variations are in like manner 
deduced the fundamental principles of the algorithm 
proper to this method, consisting simply in the evidently 
permissible liberty of transposing at will the characteris- 
tics specially appropriated to variations, before or after 
those which correspond to the ordinary differentials. 

This abstract conception having been once formed, La- 
grange was able to reduce with ease, and in the most 
general manner, all the problems of Isoperimeters to the 
simple ordinary theory of maxima and minima. To ob- 
tain a clear idea of this great and happy transformation, 
we must previously consider an essential distinction which 
arises in the different questions of isoperimeters. 

Two Classes of Questions. These investigations 
must, in fact, be divided into two general classes, ac- 
cording as the maxima and minima demanded are abso- 
lute or relative, to employ the abridged expressions of 

Questions of the first Class. The first case is that 
in which the indeterminate definite integrals, the maxi- 
mum or minimum of which is sought, are not subjected, 
by the nature of the problem, to any condition ; as hap- 
pens, for example, in the problem of the br achy stochr one, 
in which the choice is to be made between all imagina- 
ble curves. The second case takes place when, on the 
contrary, the variable integrals can vary only according 
to certain conditions, which usually consist in other defi- 
nite integrals (which depend, in like manner, upon the 
required functions) always retaining the same given val- 
ue ; as, for example, in all the geometrical questions re- 
lating to real isoperimetrical figures, and in which, by 
the nature of the problem, the integral relating to the 


length of the curve, or to the area of the surface, must 
remain constant during the variation of that integral 
which is the object of the proposed investigation. 

The Calculus of Variations gives immediately the 
general solution of questions of the former class ; for it 
evidently follows, from the ordinary theory of maxima 
and minima, that the required relation must reduce to 
zero the variation of the proposed integral with reference 
to each independent variable ; which gives the condition 
common to both the maximum and the minimum : and, 
as a characteristic for distinguishing the one from the 
other, that the variation of the second order of the same 
integral must be negative for the maximum and positive 
for the minimum. Thus, for example, in the problem 
of the brachystochrone, we will have, in order to deter- 
mine the nature of the curve sought, the equation- of 


which, being decomposed into two, with respect to the 
two unknown functions / and 0, which are independent 
of each other, will completely express the analytical 
definition of the required curve. The only difficulty 
peculiar to this new analysis consists in the elimination 
of the characteristic S, for which the calculus of varia- 
tions furnishes invariable and complete rules, founded, in 
general, on the method of " integration by parts," from 
which Lagrange has thus derived immense advantage. 
The constant object of this first analytical elaboration 
(which this is not the place for treating in detail) is to 
arrive at real differential equations, which can always 
be done ; and thereby the question comes under the or- 


dinary transcendental analysis, which furnishes the solu- 
tion, at least so far as to reduce it to pure algebra if 
the integration can be effected. The general object of 
the method of variations is to effect this transformation, 
for which Lagrange has established rules, which are sim- 
ple, invariable, and certain of success. 

Equations of Limits. Among the greatest special 
advantages of the method of variations, compared with 
the previous isolated solutions of isoperimetrical prob- 
lems, is the important consideration of what Lagrange 
calls Equations of Limits, which were entirely neglect- 
ed before him, though without them the greater part of 
the particular solutions remained necessarily incomplete. 
When the limits of the proposed integrals are to be fix- 
ed, their variations being zero, there is no occasion for 
noticing them. But it is no longer so when these limits, 
instead of being rigorously invariable, are only subjected 
to certain conditions ; as, for example, if the two points 
between which the required curve is to be traced are 
not fixed, and have only to remain upon given lines or 
surfaces. Then it is necessary to pay attention to the 
variation of their co-ordinates, and to establish between 
them the relations which correspond to the equations of 
these lines or of these surfaces. 

A more general consideration. This essential con- 
sideration is only the final complement of a more gen- 
eral and more important consideration relative to the 
variations of different independent variables. If these 
variables are really independent of one another, as when 
we compare together all the imaginable curves suscepti- 
ble of being traced between two points, it will be the 
same with their variations, and, consequently, the terms 


relating to each of these variations will have to be sep- 
arately equal to zero in the general equation which ex- 
presses the maximum or the minimum. But if, on the 
contrary, we suppose the variables to be subjected to any 
fixed conditions, it will be necessary to take notice of the 
resulting relation between their variations, so that the 
number of the equations into which this general equa- 
tion is then decomposed is always equal to only the 
number of the variables which remain truly independ- 
ent. It is thus, for example, that instead of seeking 
for the shortest path between any two points, in choosing 
it from among all possible ones, it may be proposed to 
find only what is the shortest among all those which 
may be taken on any given surface ; a question the gen- 
eral solution of which forms certainly one of the most 
beautiful applications of the method of variations. 

Questions of the second Class. Problems in which 
such modifying conditions are considered approach very 
nearly, in their nature, to the second general class of 
applications of the method of variations, characterized 
above as consisting in the investigation of relative max- 
ima and minima. There is, however, this essential dif- 
ference between the two cases, that in this last the 
modification is expressed by an integral which depends 
upon the function sought, while in the other it is desig- 
nated by a finite equation which is immediately given. 
It is hence apparent that the investigation of relative 
maxima and minima is constantly and necessarily more 
complicated than that of absolute maxima and "minima. 
Luckily, a very important general theory, discovered by 
the genius of the great Euler befo/e the invention of 
the Calculus of Variations, gives a uniform and very 


simple means of making one of these two classes of 
questions dependent on the other. It consists in this, 
that if we add to the integral which is to be a maximum 
or a minimum, a constant and indeterminate multiple 
of that one which, by the nature of the problem, is to 
remain constant, it will be sufficient to seek, by the gen- 
eral method of Lagrange above indicated, the absolute 
maximum or minimum of this whole expression. It 
can be easily conceived, indeed, that the part of the com- 
plete variation which would proceed from the last in- 
tegral must be equal to zero (because of the constant 
character of this last) as well as the portion due to the 
first integral, which disappears by virtue of the maxi- 
mum or minimum state. These two conditions evi- 
dently unite to produce, in that respect, effects exactly 

Such is a sketch of the general manner in which the 
method of variation is applied to all the different ques- 
tions which compose what is called the Theory of Is ope - 
rimeters. It will undoubtedly have been remarked in 
this summary exposition how much use has been made 
in this new analysis of the second fundamental property 
of the transcendental analysis noticed in the third chap- 
ter, namely, the generality of the infinitesimal expres- 
sions for the representation of the same geometrical or 
mechanical phenomenon, in whatever body it may be 
considered. Upon this generality, indeed, are founded, 
by their nature, all the solutions due to the method of 
variations. If a single formula could not express the 
length or the area of any curve whatever ; if another 
fixed formula could not designate the time of the fall of 
a heavy body, according to whatever .ine it may de- 



scend, &c., how would it have been possible to resolve 
questions which unavoidably require, by their nature, the 
simultaneous consideration of all the cases which can be 
determined in each phenomenon by the different subjects 
which exhibit it. 

Other Applications of this Method. Notwithstand- 
ing the extreme importance of the theory of isoperime- 
ters, and though the method of variations had at first no 
other object than the logical and general solution of this 
order of problems, we should still have but an incom- 
plete idea of this beautiful analysis if we limited its 
destination to this. In fact, the abstract conception of 
two distinct natures of differentiation is evidently appli- 
cable not only to the cases for which it was created, but 
also to all those which present, for any reason whatever, 
two different manners of making the same magnitudes 
vary. It is in this way that Lagrange himself has made, 
in his " Mecanique Analytique" an extensive and im- 
portant application of his calculus of variations, by em- 
ploying it to distinguish the two sorts of changes which 
are naturally presented by the questions of rational me- 
chanics for the different points which are considered, ac- 
cording as we compare the successive positions which 
are occupied, in virtue of its motion, by the same point 
of each body in two consecutive instants, or as we pass 
from one point of the body to another in the same instant. 
One of these comparisons produces ordinary differentials; 
the other gives rise to variations, which, there as every 
where, are only differentials taken under a new point of 
view. Such is the general acceptation in which we 
should conceive the Calculus of Variations, in order suit- 
ably to appreciate the importance of this admirable log- 


ical instrument, the most powerful that the human mind 
has as yet constructed. 

The method of variations being only an immense ex- 
tension of the general transcendental analysis, I have no 
need of proving specially that it is susceptible of being 
considered under the different fundamental points of view 
which the calculus of indirect functions, considered as a 
whole, admits of. Lagrange invented the Calculus of 
Variations in accordance with the infinitesimal concep- 
tion, and, indeed, long before he undertook the general re- 
construction of the transcendental analysis. When he 
had executed this important reformation, he easily showed 
how it could also be applied to the Calculus of Varia- 
tions, which he expounded with all the proper develop- 
ment, according to his theory of derivative functions. 
But the more that the use of the method of variations is 
difficult of comprehension, because of the higher degree 
of abstraction of the ideas considered, the more necessary 
is it, in its application, to economize the exertions of the 
mind, by adopting the most direct and rapid analytical 
conception, namely, that of Leibnitz. Accordingly, La- 
grange himself has constantly preferred it in the impor- 
tant use which he has made of the Calculus of Varia- 
tions in his " Analytical Mechanics." In fact, there does 
not exist the least hesitation in this respect among ge- 


In order to make as clear as possible the philosophical 
character of the Calculus of Variations, I think that I 
should, in conclusion, briefly indicate a consideration 
which seems to me important, and by which I can ap- 


proach it to the ordinary transcendental analysis in a 
higher degree than Lagrange seems to me to have done.* 
We noticed in the preceding chapter the formation of 
the calculus of partial differences, created by D'Alem- 
bert, as having introduced into the transcendental analy- 
sis a new elementary idea ; the notion of two kinds of 
increments, distinct and independent of one another, 
which a function of two variables may receive by virtue 
of the change of each variable separately. It is thus 
that the vertical ordinate of a surface, or any other mag- 
nitude which is referred to it, varies in two manners 
which are quite distinct, and which may follow the most 
different laws, according as we increase either the one 
or the other of the two horizontal co-ordinates. Now 
such a consideration seems to me very nearly allied, by 
its nature, to that which serves as the general basis of 
the method of variations. This last, indeed, has in real- 
ity done nothing but transfer to the independent varia- 
bles themselves the peculiar conception which had been 
already adopted for the functions of these variables ; a 
modification which has remarkably enlarged its use. I 
think, therefore, that so far as regards merely the funda- 
mental conceptions, we may consider the calculus created 
by D'Alembert as having established a natural and ne- 
cessary transition between the ordinary infinitesimal cal- 
culus and the calculus of variations ; such a derivation 
of which seems to be adapted to make the general notion 
more clear and simple. 

* I propose hereafter to develop this new consideration, in a special work 
upon the Calculut of Variations, intended to present this hyper-transcen- 
dental analysis in a new point of view, which I think adapted to extend its 
general range. 


According to the different considerations indicated in 
this chapter, the method of variations presents itself as . 
the highest degree of perfection which the analysis of in- 
direct functions has yet attained. In its primitive state, 
this last analysis presented itself as a powerful general 
means of facilitating the mathematical study of natural 
phenomena, by introducing, for the expression of their 
laws, the consideration of auxiliary magnitudes, chosen 
in such a manner that their relations are necessarily more 
simple and more easy to obtain than those of the direct 
magnitudes. But the formation of these differential 
equations was not supposed to admit of any general and 
abstract rules. Now the Analysis of Variations, con- 
sidered in the most philosophical point of view, may be 
regarded as essentially destined, by its nature, to bring 
within the reach of the calculus the actual establishment 
of the differential equations ; for, in a great number of 
important and difficult questions, such is the general ef- 
fect of the varied equations, which, still more indirect 
than the simple differential equations with respect to the 
special objects of the investigation, are also much more 
easy to form, and from which we may then, by invaria- 
ble and complete analytical methods, the object of which 
is to eliminate the new order of auxiliary infinitesimals 
which have been introduced, deduce those ordinary differ- 
ential equations which it would often have been impos- 
sible to establish directly. The method of variations 
forms, then, the most sublime paxt of that vast system 
of mathematical analysis, which, setting out from the 
most simple elements of algebra, organizes, by an unin- 
terrupted succession of ideas, general methods more and 
more powerful, for the study of natural philosophy, and 


which, in its whole, presents the most incomparably im- 
posing and unequivocal monument of the power of the 
human intellect. 

We must, however, also admit that the conceptions 
which are habitually considered in the method of varia- 
tions being, by their nature, more indirect, more gen- 
eral, and especially more abstract than all others, the 
employment of such a method exacts necessarily and 
continuously the highest known degree of intellectual 
exertion, in order never to lose sight of the precise ob- 
ject of the investigation, in following reasonings which 
offer to the mind such uncertain resting-places, and in 
which signs are of scarcely any assistance. We must 
undoubtedly attribute in a great degree to this difficulty 
the little real use which geometers, with the exception 
of Lagrange, have as yet made of such an admirable 



THE different fundamental considerations indicated in 
the five preceding chapters constitute, in reality, all the 
essential bases of a complete exposition of mathematical 
analysis, regarded in the philosophical point of view. 
Nevertheless, in order not to neglect any truly impor- 
tant general conception relating to this analysis, I think 
that I should here very summarily explain the veritable 
character of a kind of calculus which is very extended, 
and which, though at bottom it really belongs to ordina- 
ry analysis, is still regarded as being of an essentially 
distinct nature. I refer to the Calculus of Finite Dif- 
ferences, which will be the special subject of this chapter. 

Its general Character. This calculus, created by 
Taylor, in his celebrated work entitled Methodus Incre- 
mentorum, consists essentially in the consideration of the 
finite increments which functions receive as a conse- 
quence of analogous increments on the part of the cor- 
responding variables. These increments or differences, 
which take the characteristic A, to distinguish them from 
differentials, or infinitely small increments, may be in 
their turn regarded as new functions, and become the 
subject of a second similar consideration, and so on ; from 
which results the notion of differences of various suc- 
cessive orders, analogous, at least in appearance, to the 
consecutive orders of differentials. Such a calculus evi- 


dently presents, like the calculus of indirect functions, 
two general classes of questions : 

1. To determine the successive differences of all the 
various analytical functions of one or more variables, as 
the result of a definite manner of increase of the inde- 
pendent variables, which are generally supposed to aug- 
ment in arithmetical progression : 

2. Reciprocally, to start from these differences, or, 
more generally, from any equations established between 
them, and go back to the primitive functions themselves, 
or to their corresponding relations. 

Hence follows the decomposition of this calculus into 
two distinct ones, to which are usually given the names 
of the Direct, and the Inverse Calculus of Finite Differ- 
ences, the latter being also sometimes called the Integral 
Calculus of Finite Differences. Each of these would, 
also, evidently admit of a logical distribution similar to 
that given in the fourth chapter for the differential and 
the integral calculus. 

Its true Nature. There is no doubt that Taylor 
thought that by such a conception he had founded a cal- 
culus of an entirely new nature, absolutely distinct from 
ordinary analysis, and more general than the calculus of 
Leibnitz, although resting on an analogous consideration. 
It is in this way, also, that almost all geometers have 
viewed the analysis of Taylor ; but Lagrange, with his 
usual profundity, clearly perceived that these properties 
belonged much more to the forms and to the notations 
employed by Taylor than to the substance of his theory. 
In fact, that which constitutes the peculiar character of 
the analysis of Leibnitz, and makes of it a truly distinct 
and superior calculus, is the circumstance that the de- 


rived functions are in general of an entirely different na- 
ture from the primitive functions, so that they may give 
rise to more simple and more easily formed relations ; 
whence result the admirable fundamental properties of 
the transcendental analysis, which have been already ex- 
plained. But it is not so with the differences consider- 
ed by Taylor ; for these differences are, by their nature, 
functions essentially similar to those which have pro- 
duced them, a circumstance which renders them un- 
suitable to facilitate the establishment of equations, and 
prevents their leading to more general relations. Every 
equation of finite differences is truly, at bottom, an equa- 
tion directly relating to the very magnitudes whose suc- 
cessive states are compared. The scaffolding of new 
signs, which produce an illusion respecting the true char- 
acter of these equations, disguises it, however, in a very 
imperfect manner, since it could always be easily made 
apparent by replacing the differences by the equivalent 
combinations of the primitive magnitudes, of which they 
are really only the abridged designations. Thus the cal- 
culus of Taylor never has offered, and never can offer, in 
any question of geometry or of mechanics, that power- 
ful general aid which we have seen to result necessarily 
from the analysis of Leibnitz. Lagrange has, moreover, 
very clearly proven that the pretended analogy observed 
between the calculus of differences and the infinitesimal 
calculus was radically vicious, in this way, that the for- 
mulas belonging to the former calculus can never fur- 
nish, as particular cases, those which belong to the lat- 
ter, the nature of which is essentially distinct. 

From these considerations I am led to think that the 
calculus of finite differences is, in general, improperly 


classed with the transcendental analysis proper, that is. 
with the calculus of indirect functions. I consider it, on 
the contrary, in accordance with the views of Lagrange, 
to be only a very extensive and very important branch 
of ordinary analysis, that is to say, of that which I 
have named the calculus of direct functions, the equa- 
tions which it considers being always, in spite of the 
notation, simple direct equations. 


To sum up as briefly as possible the preceding ex- 
planation, the calculus of Taylor ought to be regarded 
as having constantly for its true object the general the- 
ory of Series, the most simple cases of which had alone 
been considered before that illustrious geometer. I 
ought, properly, to have mentioned this important the- 
ory in treating, in the second chapter, of Algebra proper, 
of which it is such an extensive branch. But, in order 
to avoid a double reference to it, I have preferred to no- 
tice it only in the consideration of the calculus of finite 
differences, which, reduced to its most simple general 
expression, is nothing but a complete logical study of 
questions relating to series. 

Every Series, or succession of numbers deduced from 
one another according to any constant law, necessarily 
gives rise to these two fundamental questions : 

1. The law of the series being supposed known, to 
find the expression for its general term, so as to be able 
to calculate immediately any term whatever without be- 
ing obliged to form successively all the preceding terms : 

2. In the same circumstances, to determine the sum 
of any number of terms of the series by means of their 


places, so that it can be known without the necessity 
of continually adding these terms together. 

These two fundamental questions being considered to 
be resolved, it may be proposed, reciprocally, to find the 
law of a series from the form of its general term, or the 
expression of the sum. Each of these different problems 
has so much the more extent and difficulty, as there 
can be conceived a greater number of different laws for 
the series, according to the number of preceding terms 
on which each term directly depends, and according to 
the function which expresses that dependence. We may 
even consider series with several variable indices, as La- 
place has done in his " Analytical Theory of Probabili- 
ties," by the analysis to which he has given the name 
of Theory of generating 1 Functions, although it is real- 
ly only a new and higher branch of the calculus of finite 
differences or of the general theory of series. 

These general views which I have indicated give only 
an imperfect idea of the truly infinite extent and variety 
of the questions to which geometers have risen by means 
of this single consideration of series, so simple in ap- 
pearance and so limited in its origin. It necessarily 
presents as many different cases as the algebraic resolu- 
tion of equations, considered in its whole extent ; and it 
is, by its nature, much more complicated, so much, in- 
deed, that it always needs this last to conduct it to a com- 
plete solution. We may, therefore, anticipate what must 
still be its extreme imperfection, in spite of the successive 
labours of several geometers of the first order. We do 
not, indeed, possess as yet the complete and logical solu- 
tion of any but the most simple questions of this na- 


Its identity with this Calculus. It is now easy to 
conceive the necessary and perfect identity, which has 
been already announced, between the calculus of finite 
differences and the theory of series considered in all its 
bearings. In fact, every differentiation after the man- 
ner of Taylor evidently amounts to finding the law of 
formation of a series with one or with several variable 
indices, from the expression of its general term ; in the 
same way, every analogous integration may be regard- 
ed as having for its object the summation of a series, the 
general term of which would be expressed by the pro- 
posed difference. In this point of view, the various prob- 
lems of the- calculus of differences, direct or inverse, re- 
solved by Taylor and his successors, have really a very 
great value, as treating of important questions relating 
to series. But it is very doubtful if the form and the 
notation introduced by Taylor really give any essential 
facility in the solution of questions of this kind. It 
would be, perhaps, more advantageous for most cases, and 
certainly more logical, to replace the differences by the 
terms themselves, certain combinations of which they 
represent. As the calculus of Taylor does not rest on 
a truly distinct fundamental idea, and has nothing pecu- 
liar to it but its system of signs, there could never really 
be any important advantage in considering it as detached 
from ordinary analysis, of which it is, in reality, only an 
immense branch. This consideration of differences, most 
generally useless, even if it does not cause complication, 
seems to me to retain the character of an epoch in which, 
analytical ideas not being sufficiently familiar to geome- 
ters, they were naturally led to prefer the special forms 
suitable for simple numerical comparisons. 



However that may be, I must not finish this general 
appreciation of the calculus of finite differences without 
noticing a new conception to which it has given birth, and 
which has since acquired a great importance. It is the 
consideration of those periodic or discontinuous functions 
which preserve the same value for an infinite series of 
values of the corresponding variables, subjected to a cer- 
tain law, and which must be necessarily added to the in- 
tegrals of the equations of finite differences in order to 
render them sufficiently general, as simple arbitrary con- 
stants are added to all quadratures in order to complete 
their generality. This idea, primitively introduced by 
Euler, has since been the subject of extended investiga- 
tion by M. Fourier, who has made new and important 
applications of it in his mathematical theory of heat. 


Series. Among the principal general applications 
which have been made of the calculus of finite differen- 
ces, it would be proper to place in the first rank, as the 
most extended and the most important, the solution of 
questions relating to series ; if, as has been shown, the 
general theory of series ought not to be considered as con- 
stituting, by its nature, the actual foundation of the cal- 
culus of Taylor. 

Interpolations. This great class of problems being 
then set aside, the most essential of the veritable appli- 
cations of the analysis of Taylor is, undoubtedly, thus 
far, the general method of interpolations, so frequently 
and so usefully employed in the investigation of the em- 


pirical laws of natural phenomena. The question consists, 
as is well known, in intercalating between certain given 
numbers other intermediate numbers, subjected to the 
same law which we suppose to exist between the first. 
We can abundantly verify, in this principal application 
of the calculus of Taylor, how truly foreign and often in- 
convenient is the consideration of differences with respect 
to the questions which depend on that analysis. Indeed, 
Lagrange has replaced the formulas of interpolation, de- 
duced from the ordinary algorithm of the calculus of 
finite differences, by much simpler general formulas, 
which are now almost always preferred, and which have 
been found directly, without making any use of the no- 
tion of differences, which only complicates the question. 
Approximate Rectification, Sfc. A last important 
class of applications of the calculus of finite differences, 
which deserves to be distinguished from the preceding, 
consists in the eminently useful employment made of it 
in geometry for determining by approximation the length 
and the area of any curve, and in the same way the cu- 
bature of a body of any form whatever. This procedure 
(which may besides be conceived abstractly as depending 
on the same analytical investigation as the question of 
interpolation) frequently offers a valuable supplement to 
the entirely logical geometrical methods which often lead 
to integrations, which we do not yet know how to effect, 
or to calculations of very complicated execution. 

Such are the various principal considerations to be 
noticed with respect to the calculus of finite differences. 
This examination completes the proposed philosophical 


CONCRETE MATHEMATICS will now be the subject of a 
similar labour. In it we shall particularly devote our- 
selves to examining how it has been possible (supposing 
the general science of the calculus to be perfect), by inva- 
riable procedures, to reduce to pure questions of analysis 
all the problems which can be presented by Geometry and 
Mechanics, and thus to impress on these two fundamental 
bases of natural philosophy a degree of precision and es- 
pecially of unity ; in a word, a character of high perfec- 
tion, which could be communicated to them by such a 
course alone. 






Its true Nature. After the general exposition of the 
philosophical character of concrete mathematics, com- 
pared with that of abstract mathematics, given in the in* 
troductory chapter, it need not here be shown in a special 
manner that geometry must be considered as a true nat- 
ural science, only much more simple, and therefore much 
more perfect, than any other. This necessary perfection 
of geometry, obtained essentially by the application of 
mathematical analysis, which it so eminently admits, is 
apt to produce erroneous views of the real nature of this 
fundamental science, which most minds at present con- 
ceive to be a purely logical science quite independent of 
observation. It is nevertheless evident, to any one who 
examines with attention the character of geometrical rea- 
sonings, even in the present state of abstract geometry, 
that, although the facts which are considered in it are 
much more closely united than those relating to any other 
science, still there always exists, with respect to every 
body studied by geometers, a certain number of primitive 
phenomena, which, since they are not established by any 


reasoning, must be founded on observation alone, and 
which form the necessary basis of all the deductions. 

The scientific superiority of geometry arises from the 
phenomena which it considers being necessarily the most 
universal and the most simple of all. Not only may all 
the bodies of nature give rise to geometrical inquiries, as 
well as mechanical ones, but still farther, geometrical 
phenomena would still exist, even though all the parts 
of the universe should be considered as immovable. Ge- 
ometry is then, by its nature, more general than mechan- 
ics. At the same time, its phenomena are more simple, 
for they are evidently independent of mechanical phenom- 
ena, while these latter are always complicated with the 
former. The same relations hold good in comparing 
geometry with abstract thermology. 

For these reasons, in our classification we have made 
geometry the first part of concrete mathematics ; that 
part the study of which, in addition to its own impor- 
tance, serves as the indispensable basis of all the rest. 

Before considering directly the philosophical study of 
the different orders of inquiries which constitute our 
present geometry, we should obtain a clear and exact 
idea of the general destination of that science, viewed in 
all its bearings. Such is the object of this chapter. 

Definition. Geometry is commonly defined in a very 
vague and entirely improper manner, as being the science 
of extension. An improvement on this would be to say 
that geometry has for its object the measurement of ex- 
tension ; but such an explanation would be very insuf- 
ficient, although at bottom correct, and would be far from 
giving any idea of the true general character of geomet- 
rical science 


To do this, I think that I should first explain two fun- 
damental ideas, which, very simple in themselves, have 
been singularly obscured by the employment of meta- 
physical considerations. 

The Idea of Space. The first is that of Space. 
This conception properly consists simply in this, that, in- 
stead of considering extension in the bodies themselves, 
we view it in an indefinite medium, which we regard as 
containing all the bodies of the universe. This notion is 
naturally suggested to us by observation, when we think 
of the impression which a body would leave in a fluid in 
which it had been placed. It is clear, in fact, that, as re- 
gards its geometrical relations, such an impression may 
be substituted for the body itself, without altering the 
reasonings respecting it. As to the physical nature of 
this indefinite space, we are spontaneously led to repre- 
sent it to ourselves, as being entirely analogous to the 
actual medium in which we live ; so that if this me- 
dium was liquid instead of gaseous, our geometrical space 
would undoubtedly be conceived as liquid also. This 
circumstance is, moreover, only very secondary, the es- 
sential object of such a conception being only to make 
us view extension separately from the bodies which man- 
ifest it to us. We can easily understand in advance the 
importance of this fundamental image, since it permits- 
us to study geometrical phenomena in themselves, ab- 
straction being made of all the other phenomena which 
constantly accompany them in real bodies, without, how- 
ever, exerting any influence over them. The regular es- 
tablishment of this general abstraction must be regard- 
ed as the first step which has been made in the rational 
study of geometry, which would have been impossible if 



it had been necessary to consider, together with the form 
and the magnitude of bodies, all their other physical 
properties. The use of such an hypothesis, which is 
perhaps the most ancient philosophical conception crea- 
ted by the human mind, has now become so familiar to 
us, that we have difficulty in exactly estimating its im- 
portance, by trying to appreciate the consequences which 
would result from its suppression. 

Different Kinds of Extension. The second prelimi- 
nary geometrical conception which we have to examine 
is that of the different kinds of extension, designated by 
the words volume, surface, line, and even point, and of 
which the ordinary explanation is so unsatisfactory.^ 

Although it is evidently impossible to conceive any ex- 
tension absolutely deprived of any one of the three fun- 
damental dimensions, it is no less incontestable that, in 
a great number of occasions, even of immediate utility, 
geometrical questions depend on only two dimensions, 
considered separately from the third, or on a single dimen- 
sion, considered separately from the two others. Again, 
independently of this direct motive, the study of exten- 
sion with a single dimension, and afterwards with two, 
clearly presents itself as an indispensable preliminary for 
facilitating the study of complete bodies of three dimen- 
sions, the immediate theory of which would be too com- 

* Lacroix has justly criticised the expression of solid, commonly used by 
geometers to designate a volume. It is certain, in fact, that when we wish 
to consider separately a certain portion of indefinite space, conceived as gas- 
eous, we mentally solidify its exterior envelope, so that a line and a surface 
are habitually, to our minds, just as solid as a volume. It may also be re- 
marked that most generally, in order that bodies may penetrate one another 
with more facility, we are obliged to imagine the interior of the volumes to 
be hollow, which renders still more sensible the impropriety of the word 
to Lid. 


plicated. Such are the two general motives which oblige 
geometers to consider separately extension with regard to 
one or to two dimensions, as well as relatively to all three 

The general notions of surface and of line have been 
formed by the human mind, in order that it may be able 
to think, in a permanent manner, of extension in two 
directions, or in one only. The hyperbolical expressions 
habitually employed by geometers to define these notions 
tend to convey false ideas of them ; but, examined in 
themselves, they have no other object than to permit us 
to reason with facility respecting these two kinds of ex- 
tension, making complete abstraction of that which ought 
not to be taken into consideration. Now for this it is 
sufficient to conceive the dimension which we wish to 
eliminate as becoming gradually smaller and smaller, 
the two others remaining the same, until it arrives at 
such a degree of tenuity that it can no longer fix the at- 
tention. It is thus that we naturally acquire the rea. 1 
idea of a surface, and, by a second analogous operation, 
the idea of a line, by repeating for breadth what we had 
at first done for thickness. Finally, if we again repeat 
the same operation, we arrive at the idea of a point, or 
of an extension considered only with reference to its 
place, abstraction being made of all magnitude, and de- 
signed consequently to determine positions. 

Surfaces evidently have, moreover, the general prop- 
erty of exactly circumscribing volumes ; and in the same 
way, lines, in their turn, circumscribe surfaces and are 
limited by points. But this consideration, to which too 
much importance is often given, is only a secondary 



Surfaces and lines are, then, in reality, always con- 
ceived with three dimensions ; it would be, in fact, im- 
possible to represent to one's self a surface otherwise than 
as an extremely thin plate, and a line otherwise than as 
an infinitely fine thread. It is even plain that the de- 
gree of tenuity attributed by each individual to the di- 
mensions of which he wishes to make abstraction is not 
constantly identical, for it must depend on the degree of 
subtilty of his habitual geometrical observations. This 
want of uniformity has, besides, no real inconvenience, 
since it is sufficient, in order that the ideas of surface 
and of line should satisfy the essential condition of their 
destination, for each one to represent to himself the di- 
mensions which are to be neglected as being smaller than 
all those whose magnitude his daily experience gives him 
occasion to appreciate. 

We hence see how devoid of all meaning are the fan- 
tastic discussions of metaphysicians upon the foundations 
of geometry. It should also be remarked that these pri- 
mordial ideas are habitually presented by geometers in 
an unphilosophical manner, since, for example, they ex- 
plain the notions of the different sorts of extent in an 
order absolutely the inverse of their natural dependence, 
which often produces the most serious inconveniences in 
elementary instruction. 


These preliminaries being established, we can proceed 
directly to the general definition of geometry, continuing 
to conceive this science as having for its final object the 
measurement of extension. 

It is necessary in this matter to go into a thorough 


explanation, founded on the distinction of the three kinds 
of extension, since the notion of measurement is not ex- 
actly the same with reference to surfaces and volumes 
as to lines. 

Nature of Geometrical Measurement. If we take the 
word measurement in its direct and general mathemat- 
ical acceptation, which signifies simply the determina- 
tion of the value of the ratios between any homogeneous 
magnitudes, we must consider, in geometry, that the 
measurement of surfaces and of volumes, unlike that of 
lines, is never conceived, even in the most simple and the 
most favourable cases, as being effected directly. The 
comparison of two lines is regarded as direct ; that of 
two surfaces or of two volumes is, on the contrary, al- 
ways indirect. Thus we conceive that two lines may 
be superposed; but the superposition of two surfaces, or, 
still more so, of two volumes, is evidently impossible in 
most cases ; and, even when it becomes rigorously prac- 
ticable, such a comparison is never either convenient or 
exact. It is, then, very necessary to explain wherein 
properly consists the truly geometrical measurement of 
a surface or of a volume. 

Measurement of Surfaces and of Volumes. For this 
we must consider that, whatever may be the form of a 
body, there always exists a certain number of lines, more 
or less easy to be assigned, the length of which is suffi- 
cient to define exactly the magnitude of its surface or of 
its volume. Geometry, regarding these lines as alone 
susceptible of being directly measured, proposes to deduce, 
from the simple determination of them, the ratio of the 
surface or of the volume sought, to the unity of surface, 
or to the unity of volume. Thus the general object of 



geometry, with respect to surfaces and to volumes, is 
properly to reduce all comparisons of surfaces or of vol- 
umes to simple comparisons of lines. 

Besides the very great facility which such a transform- 
ation evidently offers for the measurement of volumes 
and of surfaces, there results from it, in considering it 
in a more extended and more scientific manner, the gen- 
eral possibility of reducing to questions of lines all ques- 
tions relating to volumes and to surfaces, considered with 
reference to their magnitude. Such is often the most 
important use of the geometrical expressions which de- 
termine surfaces and volumes in functions of the corre- 
sponding lines. 

It is true that direct comparisons between surfaces or 
between volumes are sometimes employed ; but such 
measurements are not regarded as geometrical, but only 
as a supplement sometimes necessary, although too rare- 
ly applicable, to the insufficiency or to the difficulty of 
truly rational methods. It is thus that we often deter- 
mine the volume of a body, and in certain cases its sur- 
face, by means of its weight. In the same way, on othei 
occasions, when we can substitute for the proposed vol. 
ume an equivalent liquid volume, we establish directly 
the comparison of the two volumes, by profiting by the 
property possessed by liquid masses, of assuming any de- 
sired form. But all means of this nature are purely me- 
chanical, and rational geometry necessarily rejects them. 

To render more sensible the difference between these 
modes of determination and true geometrical measure- 
ments, I will cite a single very remarkable example ; the 
manner in which Galileo determined the ratio of the or- 
dinary cycloid to that of the generating circle. The 


geometry of his time was as yet insufficient for the ra- 
tional solution of such a problem. Galileo conceived 
the idea of discovering that ratio by a direct experiment. 
Having weighed as exactly as possible two plates of the 
same material and of equal thickness, one of them hav- 
ing the form of a circle and the other that of the gener- 
ated cycloid, he found the weight of the latter always 
triple that of the former ; whence he inferred that the 
area of the cycloid is triple that of the generating circle, 
a result agreeing with the veritable solution subsequent- 
ly obtained by Pascal and Wallis. Such a success ev- 
idently depends on the extreme simplicity of the ratio 
sought; and we can understand the necessary insufficien- 
cy of such expedients, even when they are actually prac- 

We see clearly, from what precedes, the nature of that 
part of geometry relating to volumes and that relating to 
surfaces. But the character of the geometry of lines is 
not so apparent, since, in order to simplify the exposition, 
we have considered the measurement of lines as being 
made directly. There is, therefore, needed a comple- 
mentary explanation with respect to them. 

Measurement of curved Lines. For this purpose, it 
js sufficient to distinguish between the right -line and 
curved lines, the measurement of the first being alone 
regarded as direct, and that of the other as always indi- 
rect. Although superposition is sometimes strictly prac- 
ticable for curved lines, it is nevertheless evident that 
truly rational geometry must necessarily reject it, as 
not admitting of any precision, even when it is possible. 
The geometry of lines has, then, for its general object, to 
reduce in every case the measurement of curved lines to 


that of right lines ; and consequently, in the most ex- 
tended point of view, to reduce to simple questions of 
right lines all questions relating to the magnitude of any 
curves whatever. To understand the possibility of such 
a transformation, we must remark, that in every curve 
there always exist certain right lines, the length of which 
must be sufficient to determine that of the curve. Thus, 
in a circle, it is evident that from the length of the ra- 
dius we must be able to deduce that of the circumfer- 
ence ; in the same way, the length of an ellipse depends 
on that of its two axes ; the length of a cycloid upon the 
diameter of the generating circle, &c. ; and if, instead 
of considering the whole of each curve, we demand, more 
generally, the length of any arc, it will be sufficient to 
add to the different rectilinear parameters, which deter- 
mine the whole curve, the chord of the proposed arc, or 
the co-ordinates of its extremities. To discover the re- 
lation which exists between the length of a curved line 
and that of similar right lines, is the general problem of 
the part of geometry which relates to the study of lines. 
Combining this consideration with those previously 
suggested with respect to volumes and to surfaces, we 
may form a very clear idea of the science of geometry, 
conceived in all its parts, by assigning to it, for its gen- 
eral object, the final reduction of the comparisons of all 
kinds of extent, volumes, surfaces, or lines, to simple com- 
parisons of right lines, the only comparisons regarded as 
capable of being made directly, and which indeed could 
not be reduced to any others more easy to effect. Such 
a conception, at the same time, indicates clearly the ver- 
itable character of geometry, and seems suited to show 
at a single glance its utility and its perfection. 


Measurement of right Lines. In order to complete 
this fundamental explanation, I have yet to show how 
there can be, in geometry, a special section relating to 
the right line, which seems at first incompatible with the 
principle that the measurement of this class of lines must 
always be regarded as direct. 

It is so, in fact, as compared with that of curved lines, 
and of all the other objects which geometry considers. 
But it is evident that the estimation of a right line can- 
not be viewed as direct except so far as the linear unit can 
be applied to it. Now this often presents insurmount- 
able difficulties, as I had occasion to show, for another 
reason, in the introductory chapter. We must, then, 
make the measurement of the proposed right line depend 
on other analogous measurements capable of being effect- 
ed directly. There is, then, necessarily a primary dis- 
tinct branch of geometry, exclusively devoted to the right 
line ; its object is to determine certain right lines from 
others by means of the relations belonging to the figures 
resulting from their assemblage. This preliminary part 
of geometry, which is almost imperceptible in viewing 
the whole of the science, is nevertheless susceptible of a 
great development. It is evidently of especial import- 
ance, since all other geometrical measurements are refer- 
red to those of right lines, and if they could not be de- 
termined, the solution of every question would remain 

Such, then, are the various fundamental parts of ra- 
tional geometry, arranged according to their natural de- 
pendence ; the geometry of lines being first considered, 
beginning with the right line ; then the geometry of sur- 
faces, and, finally, that of solids. 




Having determined with precision the general and 
final object of geometrical inquiries, the science musl 
now be considered with respect to the field embraced by 
each of its three fundamental sections. 

Thus considered, geometry is evidently susceptible, 
by its nature, of an extension which is rigorously in- 
finite ; for the measurement of lines, of surfaces, or 
of volumes presents necessarily as many distinct ques- 
tions as we can conceive different figures subjected to 
exact definitions ; and their number is evidently infi- 

Geometers limited themselves at first to consider the 
most simple figures which were directly furnished them 
by nature, or which were deduced from these primitive 
elements by the least complicated combinations. But 
they have perceived, since Descartes, that, in order to con- 
stitute the science in the most philosophical manner, it 
was necessary to make it apply to all imaginable figures. 
This abstract geometry will then inevitably comprehend 
as particular cases all the different real figures which 
the exterior world could present. It is then a fundamen- 
tal principle in truly rational geometry to consider, as 
far as possible, all figures which can be rigorously con r 

The most superficial examination is enough to con- 
vince us that these figures present a variety which is 
quite infinite. 

Infinity of Lines. With respect to curved lines, re- 
garding them as generated by the motion of a point gov- 
erned by a certain law, it is plain that we shall have, in 


general, as many different curves as we conceive differ- 
ent laws for this motion, which may evidently be deter- 
mined by an infinity of-distinct conditions ; although it 
may sometimes accidentally happen that new generations 
produce curves which have been already obtained. Thus, 
among plane curves, if a point moves so as to remain con- 
stantly at the same distance from a fixed point, it will 
generate a circle ; if it is the sum or the difference of 
its distances from two fixed points which remains con- 
stant, the curve described will be an ellipse or an hyper- 
bola ; if it is their product, we shall have an entirely dif- 
ferent curve ; if the point departs equally from a fixed 
point and from a fixed line, it will describe a parabola; 
if it revolves on a circle at the same time that this cir- 
cle rolls along a straight line, we shall have a cycloid; 
if it advances along a straight line, while this line, fixed 
at one of its extremities, turns in any manner whatever, 
there will result what in general terms are called spi- 
rals, which of themselves evidently present as many 
perfectly distinct curves as we can suppose different re- 
lations between these two motions of translation and of 
rotation, &c. Each of these different curves may then 
furnish new ones, by the different general constructions 
which geometers have imagined, and which give rise to 
evolutes, to epicycloids, to caustics, &c. Finally, there 
exists a still greater variety among curves of double cur- 

Infinity of Surfaces. As to surfaces, the figures are 
necessarily more different still, considering them as gen- 
erated by the motion of lines. Indeed, the figure may 
then vary, not only in considering, as in curves, the dif- 
ferent infinitely numerous laws to which the motion of 


the generating line may be subjected, but also in sup- 
posing that this line itself may change its nature ; a cir- 
cumstance which has nothing analogous in curves, since 
the points which describe them cannot have any distinct 
figure. Two classes of very different conditions may 
then cause the figures of surfaces to vary, while there 
exists only one for lines. It is useless to cite examples 
of this doubly infinite multiplicity of surfaces. It would 
be sufficient to consider the extreme variety of the single 
group of surfaces which may be generated by a right line, 
and which comprehends the whole family of cylindrical 
surfaces, that of conical surfaces, the most general class 
of developable surfaces, &c. 

Infinity of Volumes. With respect to volumes, there 
is no occasion for any special consideration, since they are 
distinguished from each other only by the surfaces which 
bound them. 

In order to complete this sketch, it should be added 
that surfaces themselves furnish a new general means of 
conceiving new curves, since every curve may be regard- 
ed as produced by the intersection of two surfaces. It 
is in this way, indeed, that the first lines which we may 
regard as having been truly invented by geometers were 
obtained, since nature gave directly the straight line and 
the circle. We know that the ellipse, the parabola, and 
the hyperbola, the only curves completely studied by the 
ancients, were in their origin conceived only as result- 
ing from the intersection of a cone with circular base by 
a plane in different positions. It is evident that, by the 
combined employment of these different general means 
for the formation of lines and of surfaces, we could pro- 
duce a rigorously infinitely series of distinct forms in 


starting from only a very small number of figures di- 
rectly furnished by observation. 

Analytical invention of Curves, Sfc. Finally, all 
the various direct means for the invention of figures 
have scarcely any farther importance, since rational ge- 
ometry has assumed its final character in the hands of 
Descartes. Indeed, as we shall see more fully in chap- 
ter iii., the invention of figures is now reduced to the 
invention of equations, so that nothing is more easy than 
to conceive new lines and new surfaces, by changing at 
will the functions introduced into the equations. This 
simple abstract procedure is, in this respect, infinitely 
more fruitful than all the direct resources of geometry, de- 
veloped by the most powerful imagination, which should 
devote itself exclusively to that order of conceptions. It 
also explains, in the most general and the most striking 
manner, the necessarily infinite variety of geometrical 
forms, which thus corresponds to the diversity of analyt- 
ical functions. Lastly, it shows no less clearly that the 
different forms of surfaces must be still more numerous 
than those of lines, since lines are represented analyti- 
cally by equations with two variables, while surfaces give 
rise to equations with three variables, which necessarily 
present a greater diversity. 

The preceding considerations are sufficient to show 
clearly the rigorously infinite extent of each of the three 
general sections of geometry. 


To complete the formation of an exact and sufficient- 
ly extended idea of the nature of geometrical inquiries, 
it is now indispensable to return to the general definition 



above given, in order to present it under a new point of 
view, without which the complete science would be only 
very imperfectly conceived. 

When we assign as the object of geometry the meas- 
urement of all sorts of lines, surfaces, and volumes, that 
is, as has been explained, the reduction of all geometri- 
cal comparisons to simple comparisons of right lines, we 
have evidently the advantage of indicating a general des- 
tination very precise and very easy to comprehend. But 
if we set aside every definition, and examine the actual 
composition of the science of geometry, we will at first 
be induced to regard the preceding definition as much 
too narrow ; for it is certain that the greater part of the 
investigations which constitute our present geometry do 
not at all appear to have for their object the measure- 
ment of extension. In spite of this fundamental objec- 
tion, I will persist in retaining this definition ; for, in 
fact, if, instead of confining ourselves to considering the 
different questions of geometry isofatedly, we endeavour 
to grasp the leading questions, in comparison with which 
all others, however important they may be, must be re- 
garded as only secondary, we will finally recognize that 
the measurement of lines, of surfaces, and of volumes, is 
the invariable object, sometimes direct, though most often 
indirect, of all geometrical labours. 

This general proposition being fundamental, since it 
can alone give our definition all its value, it is indispen- 
sable to enter into some developments upon this subject. 



When we examine with attention the geometrical in- 
vestigations which do not seem to relate to the measure- 
ment of extent, we find that they consist essentially in 
the study of the different properties of each line or of each 
'surface; that is, in the knowledge of the different modes 
of generation, or at least of definition, peculiar to each 
figure considered. Now we can easily establish in the 
most general manner the necessary relation of such a 
study to the question of measurement, for which the 
most complete knowledge of the properties of each form 
is an indispensable preliminary. This is concurrently 
proven by two considerations, equally fundamental, al- 
though quite distinct in their nature. 

NECESSITY OF THEIR STUDY: 1. To find the most suit- 
able Property. The first, purely scientific, consists in 
remarking that, if we did not know any other character- 
istic property of each line or surface than that one ac- 
cording to which geometers had first conceived it, in 
most cases it would be impossible to succeed in the solu- 
tion of questions relating to its measurement. In fact, 
it is easy to understand that the different definitions 
which each figure admits of are not all equally suitable 
for such an object, and that they even present the most 
complete oppositions in that respect. Besides, since the 
primitive definition of each figure was evidently not cho- 
sen with this condition in view, it is clear that we must 
not expect, in general, to find it the most suitable ; 
whence results the necessity of discovering others, that 
is, of studying as far as is possible the properties of the 
proposed figure. Let us suppose, for example, that the 



circle is defined to be " the curve which, with the same 
contour, contains the greatest area." This is certainly 
a very characteristic property, but we would evidently 
find insurmountable difficulties in trying to deduce from 
such a starting point the solution of the fundamental 
questions relating to the rectification or to the quadra- 
ture of this curve. It is clear, in advance, that the 
property of having all its points equally distant from a 
fixed point must evidently be much better adapted to 
inquiries of this nature, even though it be not precisely 
the most suitable. In like manner, would Archimedes 
ever have been able to discover the quadrature of the 
parabola if he had known no other property of that curve 
than that it was the section of a cone with a circular 
base, by a plane parallel to its generatrix ? The pure- 
ly speculative labours of preceding geometers, in trans- 
forming this first definition, were evidently indispensable 
preliminaries to the direct solution of such a question. 
The same is true, in a still greater degree, with respect 
to surfaces. To form a just idea of this, we need only 
compare, as to the question of cubature or quadrature, 
the common definition of the sphere with that one, no 
less characteristic certainly, which would consist in re- 
garding a spherical body, as that one which, with the 
same area, contains the greatest volume. 

No more examples are needed to show the necessity 
of knowing, so far as is possible, all the properties of each 
line or of each surface, in order to facilitate the investi- 
gation of rectifications, of quadratures, and of cubatures, 
which constitutes the final object of geometry. We may 
even say that the principal difficulty of questions of this 
kind consists in employing in each case the property which 


is best adapted to the nature of the proposed problem. 
Thus, while we continue to indicate, for more precision, 
the measurement of extension as the general destination 
of geometry, this first consideration, which goes to the 
very bottom of the subject, shows clearly the necessity 
of including in it the study, as thorough as possible, of 
the different generations or definitions belonging to the 
same form. 

2. To pass from the Concrete to the Abstract. A 
second consideration, of at least equal importance, con- 
sists in such a study being indispensable for organizing 
in a rational manner the relation of the abstract to the 
concrete in geometry. 

The science of geometry having to consider all ima- 
ginable figures which admit of an exact definition, it ne- 
cessarily results from this, as we have remarked, that 
questions relating to any figures presented by nature 
are always implicitly comprised in this abstract geome- 
try, supposed to have attained its perfection. But when 
it is necessary to actually pass to concrete geometry, we 
constantly meet with a fundamental difficulty, that of 
knowing to which of the different abstract types we are 
to refer, with sufficient approximation, the real lines or 
surfaces which we have to study. Now it is for the 
purpose of establishing such a relation that it is particu- 
larly indispensable to know the greatest possible number 
of properties of each figure considered in geometry. 

In fact, if we always confined ourselves to the single 
primitive definition of a line or of a surface, supposing 
even that we could then measure it (which, according to 
the first order of considerations, would generally be im- 
possible), this knowledge would remain almost necessa- 



rily barren in the application, since we should not ordi- 
narily know how to recognize that figure in nature when 
it presented itself there ; to ensure that, it would be ne- 
cessary that the single characteristic, according to which 
geometers had conceived it, should be precisely that one 
whose verification external circumstances would admit : 
a coincidence which would be purely fortuitous, and on 
which we could not count, although it might sometimes 
take place. It is, then, only by multiplying as much as 
possible the characteristic properties of each abstract fig- 
ure, that we can be assured, in advance, of recognizing 
it in the concrete state, and of thus turning to account 
all our rational labours, by verifying in each case the defi- 
nition which is susceptible of being directly proven. This 
definition is almost always the only one in given cir- 
cumstances, and varies, on the other hand, for the same 
figure, with different circumstances ; a double reason for 
its previous determination. 

Illustration: Orbits of the Planets. The geometry 
of the heavens furnishes us with a very memorable ex- 
ample in this matter, well suited to show the general ne- 
cessity of such a study. We know that the ellipse was 
discovered by Kepler to be the curve which the planets 
describe about the sun, and the satellites about their 
planets. Now would this fundamental discovery, which 
re-created astronomy, ever have been possible, if geom- 
eters had been always confined to conceiving the el- 
lipse only as the oblique section of a circular cone by a 
plane? No such definition, it is evident, would admit 
of such a verification. The most general property of the 
ellipse, that the sum of the distances from any of its points 
to two fixed points is a constant quantity, is undoubted- 


ly much more susceptible, by its nature, of causing the 
curve to be recognized in this case, but still is not di- 
rectly suitable. The only characteristic which can here 
be immediately verified is that which is derived from the 
relation which exists in the ellipse between the length of 
the focal distances and their direction ; the only relation 
which admits of an astronomical interpretation, as ex- 
pressing the law which connects the distance from the 
planet to the sun, with the time elapsed since the begin- 
ning of its revolution. It was, then, necessary that the 
purely speculative labours of the Greek geometers on the 
properties of the conic sections should have previously 
presented their generation under a multitude of different 
points of view, before Kepler could thus pass from the 
abstract to the concrete, in choosing from among all these 
different characteristics that one which could be most 
easily proven for the planetary orbits. 

Illustration : Figure of the Earth. Another exam- 
ple of the same order, but relating to surfaces, occurs in 
considering the important question of the figure of the 
earth. If we had never known any other property of the 
sphere than its primitive character of having all its points 
equally distant from an interior point, how would we ever 
have been able to discover that the surface of the earth 
was spherical ? For this, it was necessary previously to 
deduce from this definition of the sphere some properties 
capable of being verified by observations made upon the 
surface alone, such as the constant ratio which exists be- 
tween the length of the path traversed in the direction 
of any meridian of a sphere going towards a pole, and 
the angular height of this pole above the horizon at each 
point. Another example, but involving a much longer 


series of preliminary speculations, is the subsequent proof 
that the earth is not rigorously spherical, but that its 
form is that of an ellipsoid of revolution. 

After such examples, it would be needless to give any 
others, which any one besides may easily multiply. All 
of them prove that, without a very extended knowledge 
of the different properties of each figure, the relation of 
the abstract to the concrete, in geometry, would be purely 
accidental, and that the science would consequently want 
one of its most essential foundations. 

Such, then, are two general considerations which fully 
demonstrate the necessity of introducing into geometry a 
great number of investigations which have not the meas- 
urement of extension for their direct object ; while we 
continue, however, to conceive such a measurement as 
being the final destination of all geometrical science. In 
this way we can retain the philosophical advantages of 
the clearness and precision of this definition, and still in- 
clude in it, in a very logical though indirect manner, all 
known geometrical researches, in considering those which 
do not seem fo relate to the measurement of extension, 
as intended either to prepare for the solution of the final 
questions, or to render possible the application of the so- 
lutions obtained. 

Having thus recognized, as a general principle, the close 
and necessary connexion of the study of the properties of 
lines and surfaces with those researches which constitute 
the final object of geometry, it is evident that geometers, 
in the progress of their labours, must by no means con- 
strain themselves to keep such a connexion always in 
view. Knowing, once for all, how important it is to 
vary as much as possible the manner of conceiving each 


figure, they should pursue that study, without consider- 
ing of what immediate use such or such a special proper- 
ty may be for rectifications, quadratures, and cubatures. 
They would uselessly fetter their inquiries by attaching 
a puerile importance to the continued establishment of 
that co-ordination. 

This general exposition of the general object of geom- 
etry is so much the more indispensable, since, by the very 
nature of the subject, this study of the different proper- 
ties of each line and of each surface necessarily composes 
by far the greater part of the whole body of geometrical 
researches. . Indeed, the questions directly relating to rec- 
tifications, to quadratures, and to cubatures, are evidently, 
by themselves, very few in number for each figure con- 
sidered. On the other hand, the study of the properties 
of the same figure presents an unlimited field to the ac- 
tivity of the human mind, in which it may always hope 
to make new discoveries. Thus, although geometers have 
occupied themselves for twenty centuries, with more or 
less activity undoubtedly, but without any real interrup- 
tion, in the study of the conic sections, they are far from 
regarding that so simple subject as being exhausted ; and 
it is certain, indeed, that in continuing to devote them- 
selves to it, they would not fail to find still unknown 
properties of those different -curves. If labours of this 
kind have slackened considerably for a century past, it 
is not because they are completed, but only, as will be 
presently explained, because the philosophical revolution 
'in geometry, brought about by Descartes, has singularly 
iiminished the importance of such researches. 

It results from the preceding considerations that not 
only is the field of geometry necessarily infinite because 



of the variety of figures to be considered, but also in vir- 
tue of the diversity of the points of view under the same 
figure may be regarded. This last conception is, indeed, 
that which gives the broadest and most complete idea of 
the whole body of geometrical researches. We see that 
studies of this kind consist essentially, for each line or for 
each surface, in connecting all the geometrical phenom- 
ena which it can present, with a single fundamental phe- 
nomenon, regarded as the primitive definition. 


' Having now explained in a general and yet precise 
manner the final object of geometry, and shown how the 
science, thus defined, comprehends a very extensive class 
of researches which did not at first appear necessarily to 
belong to it, there remains to be considered the method 
to be followed for the formation of this science. This 
discussion is indispensable to complete this first sketch 
of the philosophical character of geometry. I shall here 
confine myself to indicating the most general considera- 
tion in this matter, developing and summing up this im- 
portant fundamental idea in the following chapters. 

Geometrical questions may be treated according to 
two methods so different, that there result from them two 
sorts of geometry, so to say, the philosophical character 
of which does not seem to me to have yet beei} properly 
apprehended. The expressions of Synthetical Geometry 
and Analytical Geometry, habitually employed to desig- 
nate them, give a very false idea of them. I would much 
prefer the purely historical denominations of Geometry of 
the Ancients and Geometry of the Moderns, which have 
at least the advantage of not causing their true charac- 


ter to be misunderstood. But I propose to employ hence- 
forth the regular expressions of Special Geometry and 
General Geometry, which seem to me suited to charac- 
terize with precision the veritable nature of the two 

Their fundamental Difference. The fundamental 
difference between the manner in which we conceive 
Geometry since Descartes, and the manner in which the 
geometers of antiquity treated geometrical questions, is 
not the use of the Calculus (or Algebra), as is commonly 
thought to be the case. On the one hand, it is certain 
that the use of the calculus was not entirely unknown 
to the ancient geometers, since they used to make con- 
tinual and very extensive applications of the theory of 
proportions, which was for them, as a means of deduc- 
tion, a sort of real, though very imperfect and especially 
extremely limited equivalent for our present algebra. 
The calculus may even be employed in a much more 
complete manner than they have used it, in order to ob- 
tain certain geometrical solutions, which will still retain 
all' the essential character of the ancient geometry ; this 
occurs very frequently with respect to those problems of 
geometry of two or of three dimensions, which are com- 
monly designated under the name of determinate. On 
the other hand, important as is the influence of the cal- 
culus in our modern geometry, various solutions obtain- 
ed without algebra may sometimes manifest the peculiar 
character which distinguishes it from the ancient geom- 
etry, although analysis is generally indispensable. I will' 
cite, as an example, the method of Roberval for tangents, 
the nature of which is essentially modern, and which, 
however, leads in certain cases to complete solutions, 



without any aid from the calculus. It is not, then, the 
instrument of deduction employed which is the principal 
distinction between the two courses which the human 
mind can take in geometry. 

The real fundamental difference, as yet imperfectly 
apprehended, seems to me to consist in the very nature 
of the questions considered. In truth, geometry, view- 
ed as a whole, and supposed to have attained entire per- 
fection, must, as we have seen on the one hand, em- 
brace all imaginable figures, and, on the other, discover 
all the properties of each figure. It admits, from this 
double consideration, of being treated according to two 
essentially distinct plans ; either, 1, by grouping to- 
gether all the questions, however different they may be, 
which relate to the same figure, and isolating those re- 
lating to different bodies, whatever analogy there may 
exist between them ; or, 2, on the contrary, by uniting 
under one point of view all similar inquiries, to whatever 
different figures they may relate, and separating the 
questions relating to the really different properties of the 
same body. In a word, the whole body of geometry 
may be essentially arranged either with reference to the 
bodies studied or to the phenomena to be considered. 
The first plan, which is the most natural, was that of 
the ancients ; the second, infinitely more rational, is that 
of the moderns since Descartes. 

Geometry of the Ancients. Indeed, the principal char- 
acteristics of the ancient geometry is that they studied, 
one by one, the different lines and the different surfaces, 
not passing to the examination of a new figure till they 
thought they had exhausted all that there was interest- v 
ing in the figures already known. In this way of pro- 


Deeding, when they undertook the study of a new curve, 
the whole of the labour bestowed on the preceding ones 
could not offer directly any essential assistance, other- 
wise than by the geometrical practice to which it had 
trained the mind. Whatever might be the real similari- 
ty of the questions proposed as to two different figures, 
the complete knowledge acquired for the one could not 
at all dispense with taking up again the whole of the in- 
vestigation for the other. Thus the progress of the mind 
was never assured ; so that they could not be certain, in 
advance, of obtaining any solution whatever, however 
analogous the proposed problem might be to questions 
which had been already resolved. Thus, for example, 
the determination of the tangents to the three conic sec- 
tions did not furnish any rational assistance for drawing 
the tangent to any other new curve, such as the con- 
choid, the cissoid, &c. In a word, the geometry of. the 
ancients was, according to the expression proposed above, 
essentially special. 

Geometry of the Moderns. In the system of the 
moderns, geometry is, on the contrary, eminently gen- 
eral, that is to say, relating to any figures whatever. It 
is easy to understand, in the first place, that all geomet- 
rical expressions of any interest may be proposed with 
reference to all imaginable figures. This is seen direct- 

o o 

ly in the fundamental problems of rectifications, quad- 
ratures, and cubatures which constitute, as has been 
shown, the final object of geometry. But this remark 
is no less incontestable, even for investigations which re- 
late to the different properties of lines and of surfaces, 
and of which the most essential, such as the question of 
tangents or of tangent planes, the theory of curvatures, 



&c., are evidently common to all figures whatever. The 
very few investigations which are truly peculiar to par- 
ticular figures have only an extremely secondary im- 
portance. This being understood, modern geometry con- 
sists essentially in abstracting, in order to treat it by it- 
self, in an entirely general manner, every question re- 
lating to the same geometrical phenomenon, in whatever 
bodies it may be considered. The application of the 
universal th'eories thus constructed to the special deter- 
mination of the phenomenon which is treated of in each 
particular body, is now regarded as only a subaltern la- 
bour, to be executed according to invariable rules, and 
the success of which is certain in advance. This labour 
is, in a word, of the same character as the numerical cal- 
culation of an analytical formula. There can be no other 
merit in it than that of presenting in each case the so- 
lution which is necessarily furnished by the general 
method, with all the simplicity and elegance which the 
line or the surface considered can admit of. But no real 
importance is attached to any thing but the conception 
and the complete solution of a new question belonging 
to any figure whatever. Labours of this kind are alone 
regarded as producing any real advance in science. The 
attentibn of geometers, thus relieved from the examina- 
tion of the peculiarities of different figures, and wholly 
directed towards general questions, has been thereby able 
to elevate itself to the consideration of new geometrical 
conceptions, which, applied to the curves studied by the 
ancients, have led to the discovery of important proper- 
ties which they had not before even suspected. Such is 
geometry, since the radical revolution produced by Des- 
cartes in the general system of the science. 


The Superiority of the modern Geometry, The mere 
indication of the fundamental character of each of the 
two geometries is undoubtedly sufficient to make appa- 
rent the immense necessary superiority of modern geom- 
etry. We may even say that, before the great concep- 
tion of Descartes, rational geometry was not truly con- 
stituted upon definitive bases, whether in its abstract or 
concrete relations. In fact, as regards science, consid- 
ered speculatively, it is clear that, in continuing indefi- 
nitely to follow the course of the ancients, as did the 
moderns before Descartes, and even for a little while af- 
terwards, by adding some new curves to the small num- 
ber of those which they had studied, the progress thus 
made, however rapid it might have been, would still be 
found, after a long series of ages, to be very inconsider- 
able in comparison with the general system of geometry, 
seeing the infinite variety of the forms which would still 
have remained to be studied. On the contrary, at each 
question resolved according to the method of the mod- 
erns, the number of geometrical problems to be resolved 
is then, once for all, diminished by so much with respect 
to all possible bodies. *Another consideration is, that it 
resulted, from their complete want of general methods, 
that the ancient geometers, in all their investigations, 
were entirely abandoned to their own strength, without 
ever having the certainty of obtaining, sooner or later, 
any solution whatever. Though this imperfection of the 
-cience was eminently suited to call forth all their ad- 
mirable sagacity, it necessarily rendered their progress 
extremely slow ; we can form some idea of this by the 
considerable time which they employed in the study of 
the conic sections. Modern geometry, making the prog- 



ress of our mind certain, permits us, on the contrary, to 
make the greatest possible use of the forces of our intel- 
ligence, which the ancients were often obliged to waste 
on very unimportant questions. 

A no less important difference between the two sys- 
tems appears when we come to consider geometry in the 
concrete point of view. Indeed, we have already re- 
marked that the relation of the abstract to the concrete 
in geometry can be founded upon rational bases only so 
far as the investigations are made to bear directly upon 
all imaginable figures. In studying lines, only one by 
one, whatever may be, the number, always necessarily 
very small, of those which we shall have considered, "the 
application of such theories to figures really existing in 
nature will never have any other than an essentially 
accidental character, since there is nothing to assure us 
that these figures can really be brought under the ab- 
stract types considered by geometers: 

Thus, for example, there is certainly something for- 
tuitous in the happy relation established between the 
speculations of the Greek geometers upon the conic sec- 
tions and the determination of the true planetary orbits. 
In continuing geometrical researches upon the same plan, 
there was no good reason for hoping for similar coinci- 
dences ; and it would have been possible, in these spe- 
cial studies, that the researches of geometers should have 
been directed to abstract figures entirely incapable of any 
application, while they neglected others, susceptible per- 
haps of an important and immediate application. It is 
clear, at least, that nothing positively guaranteed the 
necessary applicability of geometrical speculations. It 
is quite another thing in the modern geometry. From 


the single circumstance that in it we proceed by general 
questions relating to any figures whatever, we have in 
advance the evident certainty that the figures really ex- 
isting in the external world could in no case escape the 
appropriate theory if the geometrical phenomenon which 
it considers presents itself in them. 

From these different considerations, we see that the 
ancient system of geometry wears essentially the char- 
acter of the infancy of the science, which did not begin 
to become completely rational till after the philosophical 
resolution produced by Descartes. But it is evident, on 
the other hand, that geometry could not be at first con- 
ceived except in this special manner. General geome- 
try would not have been possible, and its necessity could 
not even have been felt, if a long series of special labours 
on the most simple figures had not previously furnished 
bases for the conception of Descartes, and rendered ap- 
parent the impossibility of persisting indefinitely in the 
primitive geometrical philosophy. 

The Ancient the Base of the Modern. From this last 
consideration we must infer that, although the geometry 
which I have called general must be now regarded as 
the only true dogmatical geometry, and that to which 
we shall chiefly confine ourselves, the other having no 
longer much more than an historical interest, nevertheless 
it is not possible to entirely dispense with special geom- 
etry in a rational exposition of the science. We un- 
doubtedly need not borrow directly from ancient geom- 
etry all the results which it has furnished ; but, from the 
very nature of the subject, it is necessarily impossible en- 
tirely to dispense with the ancient method, which will 
always serve as the preliminary basis of the science, dog. 



matically as well as historically. The reason of this is 
easy to understand. In fact, general geometry being 
essentially founded, as we shall soon establish, upon tbe 
employment of the calculus in the transformation of geo- 
metrical into analytical considerations, such a manner of 
proceeding could not take possession of the subject im- 
mediately at its origin. We know that the application 
of mathematical analysis, from its nature, can never com- 
mence any science whatever, since evidently it cannot 
be employed until the science has already been sufficient- 
ly cultivated to establish, with respect to the phenomena 
considered, some equations which can serve as starting 
points for the analytical operations. These fundamental 
equations being once discovered, analysis will enable us 
to deduce from them a multitude of consequences which 
it would have been previously impossible even to sus- 
pect ; it will perfect the science to an immense degree, 
both with respect to the generality of its conceptions and 
to the complete co-ordination established between them. 
But mere mathematical analysis could never be sufficient 
to form the bases of any natural science, not even to de- 
monstrate them anew when they have once been estab- 
lished. Nothing can dispense with the direct study of 
the subject, pursued up to the point of the discovery of 
precise relations. 

We thus see that the geometry of the ancients will 
always have, by its nature, a primary part, absolutely ne- 
cessary and more or less extensive, in the complete sys- 
tem of geometrical knowledge. It forms a rigorously 
indispensable introduction to general geometry. But it 
is to this that it must be limited in a completely dog- 
matic exposition. I will consider, then, directly, in the 


following chapter, this special or preliminary geometry 
restricted to exactly its necessary limits, in order to oc- 
cupy myself thenceforth only with the philosophical ex- 
amination of general or definitive geometry, the only one 
which is truly rational, and which at present essentially 
composes the science. 



THE geometrical method of the ancients necessarily 
constituting a preliminary department in the dogmatical 
system of geometry, designed to furnish general geome- 
try with indispensable foundations, it is now proper to 
begin with determining wherein strictly consists this pre- 
liminary function of special geometry, thus reduced to 
the narrowest possible limits. 


Lines ; Polygons ; Polyhedrons. In considering it 
under this point of view, it is easy to recognize that we 
might restrict it to the study of the right line alone for 
what concerns the geometry of lines ; to the quadrature 
of rectilinear plane areas ; and, lastly, to the cubature of 
bodies terminated by plane faces. The elementary prop- 
ositions relating to these three fundamental questions 
form, in fact, the necessary starting point of all geomet- 
rical inquiries ; they alone cannot be obtained except by 
a direct study of the subject ; while, on the contrary, 
the complete theory of all other figures, even that of the 
circle, and of the surfaces and volumes which are con- 
nected with it, may at the present day be completely 
comprehended in the domain of general or analytical 
geometry ; these primitive elements at once furnishing 
equations which are sufficient to allow of the application 


of the calculus to geometrical questions, which would not 
have been possible without this previous condition. 

It results from this consideration that, in common prac- 
tice, we give to elementary geometry more extent than 
would be rigorously necessary to it ; since, besides the 
right line, polygons, and polyhedrons, we also include in 
it the circle and the " round" bodies ; the study of which 
might, however, be as purely analytical as that, for ex- 
ample, of the conic sections. An unreflecting veneration 
for antiquity contributes to maintain this defect in meth- 
od ; but the best reason which can be given for it is the 
serious inconvenience for ordinary instruction which there 
would be in postponing, to so distant an epoch of mathe- 
matical education, the solution of several essential ques- 
tions, which are susceptible of a direct and continual ap- 
plication to a great number of important uses. In fact, 
to proceed in the most rational manner, we should em- 
ploy the integral calculus in obtaining the interesting 
results relating to the length or the area of the circle, or 
to the quadrature of the sphere, &c., which have been 
determined by the ancients from extremely simple con- 
siderations. This inconvenience would be of little im- 
portance with regard to the persons destined to study 
the whole of mathematical science, and the advantage 
of proceeding in a perfectly logical order would have a 
much greater comparative value. But the contrary case 
being the more frequent, theories so essential have neces- 
sarily been retained in elementary geometry. Perhaps 
the conic sections, the cycloid, &c., might be advanta- 
geously added in such cases. 

Not to be farther restricted. While this preliminary 
portion of geometry, which cannot be founded on the ap- 


plication of the calculus, is reduced by its nature to a 
very limited series of fundamental researches, relating to 
the right line, polygonal areas, and polyhedrons, it is cer- 
tain, on the other hand, that we cannot restrict it any 
more ; although, by a veritable abuse of the spirit of 
analysis, it has been recently attempted to present the 
establishment of the principal theorems of elementary ge- 
ometry under an algebraical point of view. Thus some 
have pretended to demonstrate, by simple abstract con- 
siderations of mathematical analysis, the constant rela- 
tion which exists between the three angles of a rectilin- 
ear triangle, the fundamental proposition of the theory 
of similar triangles, that of parallelopipedons, &c. ; in a 
word, precisely the only geometrical propositions which 
cannot be obtained except by a direct study of the sub- 
ject, without the calculus being susceptible of having 
any part in it. Such aberrations are the unreflecting 
exaggerations of that natural and philosophical tendency 
which leads us to extend farther and farther the influ- 
ence of analysis in mathematical studies. In mechan- 
ics, the pretended analytical demonstrations of the paral- 
lelogram of forces are of similar character. 

The viciousness of such a manner of proceeding follows 
from the principles previously presented. We have al- 
ready, in fact, recognized that, since the calculus is not, 
and cannot be, any thing but a means of deduction, it 
would indicate a radically false idea of it to wish to 
employ it in establishing the elementary foundations of 
any science whatever ; for on what would the analytical 
reasonings in such an operation repose ? A labour of this 
nature, very far from really perfecting the philosophical 
character of a science, would constitute a return towards 


the metaphysical age, in presenting real facts as mere 
logical abstractions. 

When we examine in themselves these pretended an- 
alytical demonstrations of the fundamental propositions 
of elementary geometry, we easily verify their necessary 
want of meaning. They are all founded on a vicious 
manner of conceiving the principle of homogeneity, the 
true general idea of which was explained in the second 
3hapter of the preceding book. These demonstrations 
suppose that this principle does not allow us to admit the 
coexistence in the same equation of numbers obtained by 
different concrete comparisons, which is evidently false, 
and contrary to the constant practice of geometers. Thus 
it is easy to recognize that, by employing the law of ho- 
mogeneity in this arbitrary and illegitimate acceptation, 
we could succeed in "demonstrating," with quite as much 
apparent rigour, propositions whose absurdity is manifest 
at the first glance. In examining attentively, for ex- 
ample, the procedure by the aid of which it has been at- 
tempted to prove analytically that the sum of the three 
angles of any rectilinear triangle is constantly equal to 
two right angles, we see that it is founded on this pre- 
liminary principle that, if two triangles have two of their 
angles respectively equal, the third angle of the one will 
necessarily be equal to the third angle of the other. This 
first point being granted, the proposed relation is imme- 
diately deduced from it in a very exact and simple man- 
ner. Now the analytical consideration by which this 
previous proposition has been attempted to be establish- 
ed, is of such a nature that, if it could be correct, we 
could rigorously deduce from it, in reproducing it con- 
versely, this palpable absurdity, that two sides of a tri- 


angle are sufficient, without any angle, for the entire de- 
termination of the third side. We may make analogous 
remarks on all the demonstrations of this sort, the soph- 
isms of which will be thus verified in a perfectly appa- 
rent manner. 

The more reason that we have here to consider geome- 
try as being at the present day essentially analytical, the 
more necessary was it to guard against this abusive ex- 
aggeration of mathematical analysis, according to which 
all geometrical observation would be dispensed with, in 
establishing upon pure algebraical abstractions the very 
foundations of this natural science. 

Attempted Demonstrations of Axioms, 8{c. Another 
indication that geometers have too much overlooked the 
character of a natural science which is necessarily inhe- 
rent in geometry, appears from their vain attempts, so 
long made, to demonstrate rigorously, not by the aid of 
the calculus, but by means of certain constructions, sev- 
eral fundamental propositions of elementary geometry. 
Whatever may be effected, it will evidently be impossi- 
ble to avoid sometimes recurring to simple and direct ob- 
servation in geometry as a means of establishing va- 
rious results. While, in this science, the phenomena 
which are considered are, by virtue of their extreme sim- 
plicity, much more closely connected with one another 
than those relating to any other physical science, some 
must still be found which cannot be deduced, and which, 
on the contrary, serve as starting points. It may be 
admitted that the greatest logical perfection of the sci- 
ence is to reduce these to the smallest number possible, 
but it would be absurd to pretend to make them com- 
pletely disappear. I avow, moreover, that I find fewer 


real inconveniences in extending, a little beyond what 
would be strictly necessary, the number of these geo- 
metrical notions thus established by direct observation, 
provided they are sufficiently simple, than in making 
them the subjects of complicated and indirect demonstra- 
tions, even when these demonstrations may be logically 

The true dogmatic destination of the geometry of the 
ancients, reduced to its least possible indispensable de- 
velopments, having thus been characterized as exactly as 
possible, it is proper to consider summarily each of the 
principal parts of which it must be composed. I think 
that I may here limit myself to considering the first and 
the most extensive of these parts, that which has for its 
object the study of the right line ; the two other sections, 
namely, the quadrature of polygons and the cubature 
of polyhedrons, from their limited extent, not being ca- 
pable of giving rise to any philosophical consideration of 
any importance, distinct from those indicated in the pre- 
ceding chapter with respect to the measure of areas and 
of volumes in general. 


The final question which we always have in view in 
the study of the right line, properly consists in deter- 
mining, by means of one another, the different elements 
of any right-lined figure whatever ; which enables us 
always to know indirectly the length and position of a 
right line, in whatever circumstances it may be placed. 
This fundamental problem is susceptible of two general 
solutions, the nature of which is quite distinct, the one 
graphical, the other algebraic. The first, though very 


imperfect, is that which must be first considered, be- 
cause it is spontaneously derived from the direct study 
of the subject ; the second, much more perfect in the 
most important respects, cannot be studied till after- 
wards, because it is founded upon the previous knowl- 
edge of the other. 


The graphical solution consists in constructing at will 
the proposed figure, either with the same dimensions, or, 
more usually, with dimensions changed in any ratio what- 
ever. The first mode need merely be mentioned as be- 
ing the most simple and the one which would first occur 
to the rnind, for it is evidently, by its nature, almost en- 
tirely incapable of application. The second is, on the 
contrary, susceptible of being most extensively and most 
usefully applied. We still make an important and con- 
tinual use of it at the present day, not only to represent 
with exactness the forms of bodies and their relative po- 
sitions, but even for the actual determination of geomet- 
rical magnitudes, when we do not need great precision. 
The ancients, in consequence of the imperfection of their 
geometrical knowledge, employed this procedure in a 
much more extensive manner, since it was for a long time 
the only one which they could apply, even in the most 
important precise determinations. It was thus, for exam- 
ple, that Aristarchus of Samos estimated the relative dis- 
tance from the sun and from the moon to the earth, by 
making measurements on a triangle constructed as ex- 
actly as possible, so as to be similar to the right-angled 
triangle formed by the three bodies at the instant when 
the moon is in quadrature, and when an observation of 


the angle at the earth would consequently be sufficient to 
define the triangle. Archimedes himself, although he was 
the first to introduce calculated determinations into .ge- 
ometry, several times employed similar means. The 
formation of trigonometry did not cause this method to 
be entirely abandoned, although it greatly diminished its 
use ; the Greeks and the Arabians continued to employ 
it for a great number of researches, in which we now re- 
gard the use of the calculus as indispensable. 

This exact reproduction of any figure whatever on a 
different scale cannot present any great theoretical diffi- 
culty when all the parts of the proposed figure lie in the 
same plane. But if we suppose, as most frequently hap- 
pens, that they are situated in different planes, we see, 
then, a new order of geometrical considerations arise. 
The artificial figure, which is constantly plane, not being 
capable, in that case, of being a perfectly faithful image 
of the real figure, it is necessary previously to fix with 
precision the mode of representation, which gives rise to 
different systems of Projection. 

It then remains to be determined according to what 
laws the geometrical phenomena correspond in the two 
figures. This consideration generates a new series of 
geometrical investigations, the final object of which is 
properly to discover how we can replace constructions in 
relief by plane constructions. The ancients had to re- 
solve several elementary questions of this kind for vari- 
ous cases in which we now employ spherical trigonome- 
try, principally for different problems relating to the ce- 
lestial sphere. Such was the object of their analemmas, 
and of the other plane figures which for a long time sup- 
plied the place of the calculus. We see by this that the 


ancients really knew the elements of what we now name 
Descriptive Geometry, although they did not conceive it 
in a distinct and general manner. 

I think it proper briefly to indicate in this place the 
true philosophical character of this "Descriptive Geome- 
try ;" although, being essentially a science of application, 
it ought not to be included within the proper domain of 
this work. 


All questions of geometry of three dimensions neces- 
sarily give rise, when we consider their graphical solu- 
tion, to a common difficulty which is peculiar to them ; 
that of substituting for the different constructions in re- 
lief, which are necessary to resolve them directly, and 
which it is almost always impossible to execute, simple 
equivalent plane constructions, by means of which we 
finally obtain the same results. Without this indispen- 
sable transformation, every solution of this kind would be 
evidently incomplete and really inapplicable in practice, 
although theoretically the constructions in space are usu- 
ally preferable as being more direct. It was in order to 
furnish general means for always effecting such a trans- 
formation that Descriptive Geometry was created, and 
formed into a distinct and homogeneous system, by the 
illustrious MONGE. He invented, in the first place, a uni- 
form method of representing bodies by figures traced on a 
single plane, by the aid of projections on two different 
planes, usually perpendicular to each other, and one of 
which is supposed to turn about their common intersec- 
tion so as to coincide with the other produced ; in this 
system, or in any other equivalent to it, it is sufficient 


to regard points and lines as being determined by their 
projections, and surfaces by the projections of their gen- 
erating lines. This being established, Monge analyz- 
ing with profound sagacity the various partial labours of 
this kind which had before been executed by a number 
of inconguous procedures, and considering also, in a gen- 
eral and direct manner, in what any questions of that 
nature must consist found that they could always be 
reduced to a very small number of invariable abstract 
problems, capable of being resolved separately, once for 
all, by uniform operations, relating essentially some to 
the contacts and others to the intersections of surfaces. 
Simple and entirely general methods for the graphical 
solution of these two orders of problems having been 
formed, all the geometrical questions which may arise in 
any of the various arts of construction stone-cutting, 
carpentry, perspective, dialling, fortification, &c. can 
henceforth be treated as simple particular cases of a sin- 
gle theory, the invariable application of which will al- 
ways necessarily lead to an exact solution, which may 
be facilitated in practice by profiting by the peculiar 
circumstances of each case. 

This important creation deserves in a remarkable de- 
gree to fix the attention of those philosophers who con- 
sider all that the human species has yet effected as a 
first step, and thus far the only really complete one, to- 
wards that general renovation of human labours, which 
must imprint upon all our arts a character of precision 
and of rationality, so necessary to their future progress 
Such a revolution must, in fact, inevitably commence 
with that class of industrial labours, which is essentially 


connected with that science which is the most simple, 
the most perfect, and the most ancient. It cannot fail 
to extend hereafter, though with less facility, to all other 
practical operations. Indeed Monge himself, who con- 
ceived the true philosophy of the arts better than any one 
else, endeavoured to sketch out a corresponding system 
for the mechanical arts. 

Essential as the conception of descriptive geometry 
really is, it is very important not to deceive ourselves 
with respect to its true destination, as did those who, 
in the excitement of its first discovery, saw in it a means 
of enlarging the general and abstract domain of rational 
geometry. The result has in no way answered to these 
mistaken hopes. And, indeed, is it not evident that de- 
scriptive geometry has no special value except as a science 
of application, and as forming the true special theory of 
the geometrical arts ? Considered in its abstract rela- 
tions, it could not introduce any truly distinct order of 
geometrical speculations. We must not forget that, in 
order that a geometrical question should fall within the 
peculiar domain of descriptive geometry, it must neces- 
sarily have been previously resolved by speculative ge- 
ometry, the solutions of which then, as we have seen, 
always need to be prepared for practice in such a way as 
to supply the place of constructions in relief by plane 
constructions ; a substitution which really constitutes the 
only characteristic function of descriptive geometry. 

It is proper, however, to remark here, that, with regard 
to intellectual education, the study of descriptive geome- 
try possesses an important philosophical peculiarity, quite 
independent of its high industrial utility. This is the 
advantage which it so pre-eminently offers in habitu- 


ating the mind to consider very complicated geometrical 
combinations in space, and to follow with precision their 
continual correspondence with the figures which are ac- 
tually traced of thus exercising to the utmost, in the 
most certain and precise manner, that important faculty 
of the human mind which is properly called " imagina- 
tion," and which consists, in its elementary and positive 
acceptation, in representing to ourselves, clearly and easi- 
ly, a vast and variable collection of ideal objects, as if 
they were really before us. 

Finally, to complete the indication of the general na- 
ture of descriptive geometry by determining its logical 
character, we have to observe that, while it belongs to 
the geometry of the ancients by the character of its so- 
lutions, on the other hand it approaches the geometry of 
the moderns by the nature of the questions which com- 
pose it. These questions are in fact eminently remark- 
able for that generality which, as we saw in the prece- 
ding chapter, constitutes the true fundamental character 
of modern geometry ; for the methods used are always 
conceived as applicable to any figures whatever, the pecu- 
liarity of each having only a purely secondary influence. 
The solutions of descriptive geometry are then graphical, 
like most of those of the ancients, and at the same time 
general, like those of the moderns. 

After this important digression, we will pursue the 
philosophical examination of special geometry, always 
considered as reduced to its least possible development, 
as an indispensable introduction to general geometry. 
We have now sufficiently considered the graphical solu- 
tion of the fundamental problem relating to the right line 


that is, the determination of the different elements ot any 
right-lined figure by means of one another and have 
now to examine in a special manner the algebraic solution. 


This kind of solution, the evident superiority of which 
need not here be dwelt upon, belongs necessarily, by the 
very nature of the question, to the system of the ancient 
geometry, although the logical method which is employed 
causes it to be generally, but very improperly, separated 
from it. We have thus an opportunity of verifying, in 
a very important respect, what was established generally 
in the preceding chapter, that it is not by the employ- 
ment of the calculus that the modern geometry is essen- 
tially to be distinguished from the ancient. The ancients 
are in fact the true inventors of the present trigonom- 
etry, spherical as well as rectilinear ; it being only much 
less perfect in their hands, on account of the extreme in- 
feriority of their algebraical knowledge. It is, then, really 
in this chapter, and not, as it might at first be thought, 
in those which we shall afterwards devote to the philo- 
sophical examination of general geometry, that it is prop- 
er to consider the character of this important preliminary 
theory, which is usually, though improperly, included in 
what is called analytical geometry, but which is really 
only a complement of elementary geometry properly so 

Since all right-lined figures can be decomposed into 
triangles, it is evidently sufficient to know how to deter- 
mine the different elements of a triangle by means of one 
another, which reduces polygonometry to simple trig- 



The difficulty in resolving algebraically such a ques- 
tion as the above, consists essentially in forming, between 
the angles and the sides of a triangle, three distinct equa- 
tions ; which, when once obtained, will evidently reduce all 
trigonometrical problems to mere questions of analysis. 

How to introduce Angles. In considering the estab- 
lishment of these equations in the most general manner, 
we immediately meet with a fundamental distinction 
with respect to the manner of introducing the angles 
into the calculation, according as they are made to enter 
directly, by themselves or by the circular arcs which are 
proportional to them ; or indirectly, by the chords of 
these arcs, which are hence called their trigonometrical 
lines. Of these two systems of trigonometry the second 
was of necessity the only one originally adopted, as being 
the only practicable one, since the condition of geometry 
made it easy enough to find exact relations between the 
sides of the triangles and the trigonometrical lines which 
represent the angles, while it would have been absolutely 
impossible at that epoch to establish equations between 
the sides and the angles themselves. 

Advantages of introducing Trigonometrical Lines. 
At the present day, since the solution can be obtained by 
either system indifferently, that motive for preference no 
longer exists ; but geometers have none the less persisted 
in following from choice the system primitively admitted 
from necessity ; for, the same reason which enabled these 
trigonometrical equations to be obtained with much more 
facility, must, in like manner, as it is still more easy to 
conceive a priori, render these equations much more sim- 



pie, since they then exist only between right lines, in- 
stead of being established between right lines and arcs 
of circles. Such a consideration has so much the more 
importance, as the question relates to formulas which are 
eminently elementary, and destined to be continually 
employed in all parts of mathematical science, as well 
as in all its various applications. 

It may be objected, however, that when an angle is 
given, it is, in reality, always given by itself, and not by 
its trigonometrical lines ; and that when it is unknown, it 
is its angular value which is properly to be determined, 
and not that of any of its trigonometrical lines. It seems, 
according to this, that such lines are only useless inter- 
mediaries between the sides and the angles, which have 
to be finally eliminated, and the introduction of which 
does not appear capable of simplifying the proposed re- 
search. It is indeed important to explain, with more 
generality and precision than is customary, the great real 
utility of this manner of proceeding. 

Division of Trigonometry into two Parts. It con- 
sists in the fact that the introduction of these auxiliary 
magnitudes divides the entire question of trigonometry 
into two others essentially distinct, one of which has 
for its object to pass from the angles to their trigono- 
metrical lines, or the converse, and the other of which 
proposes to determine the sides of the triangles by the trig- 
onometrical lines of their angles, or the converse. Now 
the first of these two fundamental questions is evidently 
susceptible, by its nature, of being entirely treated and 
reduced to numerical tables once for all, in considering 
all possible angles, since it depends only upon those an- 
gles, and not at all upon the particular triangles in which 


they may enter in each case ; while the solution of the 
second question must necessarily be renewed, at least in 
its arithmetical relations, for each new triangle which it 
is necessary to resolve. This is the reason why the first 
portion of the complete work, which would be precisely 
the most laborious, is no longer taken into the account, 
being always done in advance ; while, if such a decom- 
position had not been performed, we would evidently have 
found ourselves under the obligation of recommencing 
the entire calculation in each particular case. Such is 
the essential property of the present trigonometrical sys- 
tem, which in fact would really present no actual ad- 
vantage, if it was necessary to calculate continually the 
trigonometrical line of each angle to be considered, or the 
converse; the intermediate agency introduced would then 
be more troublesome than convenient. 

In order to clearly comprehend the true nature of this 
conception, it will be useful to compare it with a still 
more important one, designed to produce an analogous 
effect either in its algebraic, or, still more, in its arith- 
metical relations the admirable theory of logarithms, 
In examining in a philosophical manner the influence 
of this theory, we see in fact that its general result is 
to decompose all imaginable arithmetical operations into 
two distinct parts. The first and most complicated of 
these is capable of being executed in advance once for 
all (since it depends only upon the numbers to be con- 
sidered, and not at all upon the infinitely different com- 
binations into which they can enter), and consists in con- 
sidering all numbers as assignable powers of a constant 
number. The second part of the calculation, which must 
of necessity be recommenced for each new formula which 


is to have its value determined, is thenceforth reduced 

to executing upon these exponents correlative operations 
which are infinitely more simple. I confine myself here 
to merely indicating this resemblance, which any one can 
carry out for himself. 

We must besides observe, as a property (secondary 
at the present day, but all-important at its origin) of the 
trigonometrical system adopted, the very remarkable cir- 
cumstance that the determination of angles by their trigo- 
nometrical lines, or the converse, admits of an arithmetical 
solution (the only one which is directly indispensable for 
the special destination of trigonometry) without the pre- 
vious resolution of the corresponding algebraic question. 
It is doubtless to such a peculiarity that the ancients 
owed the possibility of knowing trigonometry. The in- 
vestigation conceived in this way was so much the more 
easy, inasmuch as tables of chords (which the ancients 
naturally took as the trigonometrical lines) had been pre- 
viously constructed for quite a different object, in the 
course of the labours of Archimedes on the rectification 
of the circle, from which resulted the actual determina- 
tion of a certain series of chords ; so that when Hip- 
parchus subsequently invented trigonometry, he could 
confine himself to completing that operation by suitable 
intercalations ; which shows clearly the connexion of ideas 
in that matter. 

The Increase of such Trigonometrical Lines. To 
complete this philosophical sketch of trigonometry, it is 
proper now to observe that the extension of the same con- 
siderations which lead us to replace angles or arcs of cir- 
cles by straight lines, with the view of simplifying our 
equations, must also lead us to employ concurrently sev- 


eral trigonometrical lines, instead of confining ourselves 
to one only (as did the ancients), so as to perfect this 
system by choosing that one which will be algebraically 
the most convenient on each occasion. In this point of 
view, it is clear that the number of these lines is in itself 
no ways limited; provided that they are determined by 
the arc, and that they determine it, whatever may be the 
law according to which they are derived from it, they are 
suitable to be substituted for it in the equations. The 
Arabians, and subsequently the moderns, in confining 
themselves to the most simple constructions, have car- 
ried to four or five the number of direct trigonometrical 
lines, which might be extended much farther. 

But instead of recurring to geometrical formations, 
which would finally become very complicated, we con- 
ceive with the utmost facility as many new trigono- 
metrical lines as the analytical transformations may re- 
quire, by means of a remarkable artifice, which is not 
usually apprehended in a sufficiently general manner. 
It consists in not directly multiplying the trigonometrical 
lines appropriate to each arc considered, but in intro- 
ducing new ones, by considering this arc as indirectly 
determined by all lines relating to an arc which is a very 
simple function of the first. It is thus, for example, that, 
in order to calculate an angle with more facility, we will 
determine, instead of its sine, the sine of its half, or of 
its double, &c. Such a creation of indirect trigono- 
metrical lines is evidently much more fruitful than all 
the direct geometrical methods for obtaining new ones. 
We may accordingly say that the number of trigono- 
metrical lines actually employed at the present day by 
geometers is in reality unlimited, since at every instant, 


so to say, the transformations of analysis may lead us to 
augment it by the method which I have just indicated. 
Special names, however, have been given to those only 
of these indirect lines which refer to the complement of 
the primitive arc, the others not occurring sufficiently 
often to render such denominations necessary; a cir- 
cumstance which has caused a common misconception 
of the true extent of the system of trigonometry. 

Study of their Mutual Relations. This multiplicity 
of trigonometrical lines evidently gives rise to a third 
fundamental question in trigonometry, the study of the 
relations which exist between these different lines ; since, 
without such a knowledge, we could not make use, for 
our analytical necessities, of this variety of auxiliary 
magnitudes, which, however, have no other destination. 
It is clear, besides, from the consideration just indicated, 
that this essential part of trigonometry, although simply 
preparatory, is, by its nature, susceptible of an indefinite 
extension when we view it in its entire generality, while 
the two others are circumscribed within rigorously de- 
fined limits. 

It is needless to add that these three principal parts 
of trigonometry have to be studied in precisely the in- 
verse order from that in which we have seen them neces- 
sarily derived from the general nature of the subject; 
for the third is evidently independent of the two others, 
and the second, of that which was first presented the 
resolution of triangles, properly so called .which must 
for that reason be treated in the last place ; which ren- 
dered so much the more important the consideration of 
their natural succession and logical relations to one an- 


It is useless to consider here separately spherical trig- 
onometry, which cannot give rise to any special philo- 
sophical consideration ; since, essential as it is by the im- 
portance and the multiplicity of its us*es, it can be treated 
at the present day only as a simple application of rec- 
tilinear trigonometry, which furnishes directly its funda- 
mental equations, by substituting for the spherical tri- 
angle the corresponding trihedral angle. 

This summary exposition of the philosophy of trigo- 
nometry has been here given in order to render apparent, 
by an important example, that rigorous dependence and 
those successive ramifications which are presented by 
what are apparently the most simple questions of ele- 
mentary geometry. 

Having thus examined the peculiar character of spe- 
cial geometry reduced to its only dogmatic destination, 
that of furnishing to general geometry an indispensable 
preliminary basis, we have now to give all our attention 
to the true science of geometry, considered as a whole, 
in the most rational manner. For that purpose, it is 
necessary to carefully examine the great original idea of 
Descartes, upon which it is entirely founded. This will 
be the object of the following chapter. 



General (or Analytical] geometry being entirely 
founded upon the transformation of geometrical consid- 
erations into equivalent analytical considerations, we 
must begin with examining directly and in a thorough 
manner the beautiful conception by which Descartes has 
established in a uniform manner the constant possibility 
of such a co-relation. Besides its own extreme impor- 
tance as a means of highly perfecting geometrical science, 
or, rather, of establishing the whole of it on rational 
bases, the philosophical study of this admirable concep- 
tion must have so much the greater interest in our eyes 
from its characterizing with perfect clearness the general 
method to be employed in organizing the relations of the 
abstract to the concrete in mathematics, by the analyt- 
ical representation of natural phenomena. There is nc 
conception, in the whole philosophy of mathematics 
which better deserves to fix all ou attention. 


In order to succeed in expressing all imaginable geo- 
metrical phenomena by simple analytical relations, we 
must evidently, in the first place, establish a general 
method for representing analytically the subjects them- 
selves in which these phenomena are found, that is, the 
lines or the surfaces to be considered. The subject be- 


ing thus habitually considered in a purely analytical 
point of view, we see how it is thenceforth possible to 
conceive in the same manner the various accidents of 
which it is susceptible. 

In order to organize the representation of geometrical 
figures by analytical equations, we must previously sur- 
mount a fundamental difficulty ; that of reducing the 
general elements of the various conceptions of geometry 
to simply numerical ideas ; in a word, that of substitu- 
ting in geometry pure considerations of quantity for all 
considerations of quality. 

Reduction of Figure to Position. For .this purpose 
let us observe, in the first place, that all geometrical 
ideas relate necessarily to these three universal catego- 
ries : the magnitude, the figure, and the position of the 
extensions to be considered. As to the first, there is 
evidently no difficulty ; it enters at once into the ideas 
of numbers. With relation to the second, it must be 
remarked that it will always admit of being reduced to 
the third. For the figure of a body evidently results 
from the mutual position of the different points of which 
it is composed, so that the idea of position necessarily 
comprehends that of figure, and every circumstance of 
figure can be translated by a circumstance of position. 
It is in this way, in fact, that the human mind has pro- 
ceeded in order to arrive at the analytical representation 
of geometrical figures, their conception relating directly 
only to positions. All the elementary difficulty is then 
properly reduced to that of referring ideas of situation 
to ideas of magnitude. Such is the direct destination 
of the preliminary conception upon which Descartes has 
established the general system of analytical geometry. 


His philosophical labour, in this relation, has consisted 
simply in the entire generalization of an elementary opera- 
tion, which we may regard as natural to the human mind, 
since it is performed spontaneously, so to say, in all 
minds, even the most uncultivated. Thus, when we 
have to indicate the situation of an object without di- 
rectly pointing it out, the method which we always adopt, 
and evidently the only one which can be employed, con- 
sists in referring that object to others which are known, 
by assigning the magnitude of the various geometrical 
elements, by which we conceive it connected with the 
known objects. These elements constitute what Des- 
cartes, and after him all geometers, have called the co- 
ordinates of each point considered. They are necessarily 
two in number, if it is known in advance in what plane 
the point is situated; and three, if it may be found in- 
differently in any region of space. As many different 
constructions as can be imagined for determining the 
position of a point, whether on a plane or in space, so 
many distinct systems of co-ordinates may be conceived ; 
they are consequently susceptible of being multiplied to 
infinity. But, whatever may be the system adopted, we 
shall always have reduced the ideas of situation to simple 
ideas of magnitude, so that we will consider the change 
in the position of a point as produced by mere numerical 
variations in the values of its co-ordinates. 

Determination of the Position of a Point. Consider- 
ing at first only the least complicated case, that of plane 
geometry, it is in this way that we usually determine 
the position of a point on a plane, by its distances from 
two fixed right lines considered as known, which are 
called axes, and which are commonly supposed to be 


perpendicular to each other. This system is that most 
frequently adopted, because of its simplicity ; but geom- 
eters employ occasionally an infinity of others. Thus 
the position of a point on a plane may be determined, 1, 
by its distances from two fixed points ; or, 2, by its dis- 
tance from a single fixed point, and the direction of that 
distance, estimated by the greater or less angle which it 
makes with a fixed right line, which constitutes the sys- 
tem of what are called polar co-ordinates, the most fre- 
quently used after the system first mentioned; or, 3, by 
the angles which the right lines drawn from the variable 
point to two fixed points make with the right line which 
joins these last; or, 4, by the distances from that point 
to a fixed right line and a fixed point, &c. In a word, 
there is no geometrical figure whatever from which it is 
not possible to deduce a certain system of co-ordinates 
more or less susceptible of being employed. 

A general observation, which it is important to make 
in this connexion, is, that every system of co-ordinates is 
equivalent to determining a point, in plane geometry, by 
the intersection of two lines, each of which is subjected 
to certain fixed conditions of determination ; a single 
one of these conditions remaining variable, sometimes 
the one, sometimes the other, according to the system 
considered. We could not, indeed, conceive any other 
means of constructing a point than to mark it by the 
meeting of two lines. Thus, in the most common sys- 
tem, that of rectilinear co-ordinates, properly so called, 
the point is determined by the intersection of two right 
lines, each of which remains constantly parallel to a 
fixed axis, at a greater or less distance from it ; in the 
polar system, the position of the point is marked by the 


meeting of a circle, of variable radius and fixed centre, 
with a movable right line compelled to turn about this 
centre : in other systems, the required point might be 
designated by the intersection of two circles, or of any 
other two lines, &c. In a word, to assign the value of 
one of the co-ordinates of a point in any system what- 
ever, is always necessarily equivalent to determining a 
certain line on which that point must be situated. The 
geometers of antiquity had already made this essential 
remark, which served as the base of their method of 
geometrical loci, of which they made so happy a use to 
direct their researches in the resolution of determinate 
problems, in considering separately the influence of each 
of the two conditions by which was defined each point 
constituting the object, direct or indirect, of the proposed 
question. It was the general systematization of this 
method which was the immediate motive of the labours 
of Descartes, which led him to create analytical geom- 

After having clearly established this preliminary con- 
ception by means of which ideas of position, and thence, 
implicitly, all elementary geometrical conceptions are ca- 
pable of being reduced to simple numerical considera- 
tions it is easy to form a direct conception, in its entire 
generality, of the great original idea of Descartes, rela- 
tive to the analytical representation of geometrical fig- 
ures : it is this which forms the special object of this 
chapter. I will continue to consider at first, for more 
facility, only geometry of two dimensions, which alone 
was treated by Descartes ; and will afterwards examine 
separately, under the same point of view, the theory of 
surfaces and curves of double curvature. 



Expression of Lines by Equations. In accordance 
with the manner of expressing analytically the position 
of a point on a plane, it can be easily established that, 
by whatever property any line may be denned, that defi- 
nition always admits of being replaced by a correspond- 
ing equation between the two variable co-ordinates of the 
point which describes this line ; an equation which will 
be thenceforth the analytical representation of the pro- 
posed line, every phenomenon of which will be translated 
by a certain algebraic modification of its equation. Thus, 
if we suppose that a point moves on a plane without its 
course being in any manner determined, we shall evi- 
dently have to regard its co-ordinates, to whatever system 
they may belong, as two variables entirely independent 
of one another. But if, on the contrary, this point is 
compelled to describe a certain line, we shall necessarily 
be compelled to conceive that its co-ordinates, in all the 
positions which it can take, retain a certain permanent 
and precise relation to each other, which is consequently 
susceptible of being expressed by a suitable equation ; 
which will become the very clear and very rigorous an- 
alytical definition of the line under consideration, since 
it will express an algebraical property belonging exclu- 
sively to the co-ordinates of all the points of this line. 
It is clear, indeed, that when a point is not subjected to 
any condition, its situation is not determined except in 
giving at once its two co-ordinates, independently of each 
other ; while, when the point must continue upon a de- 
fined line, a single co-ordinate is sufficient for complete- 
ly fixing its position. The second co-ordinate is then a 


determinate function of the first ; or, in other words, 
there must exist between them a certain equation, of a 
nature corresponding to that of the line on which the 
point is compelled to remain. In a word, each of the 
co-ordinates of a point requiring it to be situated on a 
certain line, we conceive reciprocally that the condition, 
on the part of a point, of having to belong to a line de- 
fined in any manner whatever, is equivalent to assigning 
the value of one of the two co-ordinates ; which is found 
in that case to be entirely dependent on the other. The 
analytical relation which expresses this dependence may 
be more or less difficult to discover, but it must evi- 
dently be always conceived to exist, even in the cases in 
which our present means may be insufficient to make it 
known. It is by this simple consideration that we may 
demonstrate, in an entirely general manner independ- 
ently of the particular verifications on which this funda- 
mental conception is ordinarily established for each spe- 
cial definition of a line the necessity of the analytical 
representation of lines by equations. 

Expression of Equations by Lines. Taking up again 
the same reflections in the inverse direction, we could 
show as easily the geometrical necessity of the represent- 
ation of every equation of two variables, in a determinate 
system of co-ordinates, by a certain line ; of which such 
a relation would be, in the absence of any other known 
property, a very characteristic definition, the scientific 
destination of which will be to fix the attention directly 
upon the general course of the solutions of the equation, 
which will thus be noted in the most striking and the 
most simple manner. This picturing of equations is one 
of the most important fundamental advantages of ana- 


lytical geometry, which has thereby reacted in the high- 
est degree upon the general perfecting of analysis itself ; 
not only by assigning to purely abstract researches a 
clearly determined object and an inexhaustible career, 
but, in a still more direct relation, by furnishing a new 
philosophical medium for analytical meditation which 
could not be replaced by any other. In fact, the purely 
algebraic discussion of an equation undoubtedly makes 
known its solutions in the most precise manner, but in 
considering them only one by one, so that in this way 
no general view of them could be obtained, except as the 
final result of a long and laborious series of numerical 
comparisons. On the other hand, the geometrical locus 
of the equation, being only designed to represent distinct- 
ly and with perfect clearness the summing up of all these 
comparisons, permits it to be directly considered, without 
paying any attention to the details which have furnished 
it. It can thereby suggest to our mind general analyt- 
ical views, which we should have arrived at with much 
difficulty in any other manner, for want of a means of 
clearly characterizing their object. It is evident, for ex- 
ample, that the simple inspection of the logarithmic 
curve, or of the curve y = sin. x, makes us perceive 
much more distinctly the general manner of the varia- 
tions of logarithms with respect to their numbers, or of 
sines with respect to their arcs, than could the most at- 
tentive study of a table of logarithms or of natural sines. 
It is well known that this method has become entirely 
elementary at the present day, and that it is employed 
whenever it is desired to get a clear idea of the general 
character of the law which reigns in a series of precise 
observations of any kind whatever. 


Any Change in the Line causes a Change in the 
Equation. Returning to the representation of lines by 
equations, which is our principal object, we see that this 
representation is, by its nature, so faithful, that the line 
could not experience any modification, however slight it 
might be, without causing a corresponding change in the 
equation. This perfect exactitude even gives rise often- 
times to special difficulties; for since, in our system of 
analytical geometry, the mere displacements of lines af- 
fect the equations, as well as their real variations in mag- 
nitude or form, we should be liable to confound them 
with one another in our analytical expressions, if geom- 
eters had not discovered an ingenious method designed 
expressly to always distinguish them. This method is 
founded on this principle, that although it is impossible 
to change analytically at will the position of a line with 
respect to the axes of the co-ordinates, we can change in 
any manner whatever the situation of the axes them- 
selves, which evidently amounts to the same ; then, by 
the aid of the very simple general formula by which this 
transformation of the axes is produced, it becomes easy 
to discover whether two different equations are the ana- 
lytical expressions of only the same line differently situ- 
ated, or refer to truly distinct geometrical loci ; since, in 
the former case, one of them will pass into the other by 
suitably changing the axes or the other constants of the 
system of co-ordinates employed. It must, moreover, be 
remarked on this subject, that general inconveniences of 
this nature seem to be absolutely inevitable in analytical 
geometry ; for, since the ideas of position are, as we have 
seen, the only geometrical ideas immediately reducible to 
numerical considerations, and the conceptions of figure 


cannot be thus reduced, except by seeing in them rela- 
tions of situation, it is impossible for analysis to escape 
confounding, at first, the phenomena of figure with sim- 
ple phenomena of position, which alone are directly ex- 
pressed by the equations. 

Every Definition of a Line is an Equation. In or- 
der to complete the philosophical explanation of the fun- 
damental conception which serves as the base of analyt- 
ical geometry, I think that I should here indicate a new 
general consideration, which seems to me particularly 
well adapted for putting in the clearest point of view this 
necessary representation of lines by equations with two 
variables. It consists in this, that not only, as we have 
shown, must every defined line necessarily give rise to a 
certain equation between the two co-ordinates of any one 
of its points, but, still farther, every definition of a line 
may be regarded as being already of itself an equation of 
that line in a suitable system of co-ordinates. 

It is easy to establish this principle, first making a 
preliminary logical distinction with respect to different 
kinds of definitions. The rigorously indispensable con- 
dition of every definition is that of distinguishing the ob- 
ject defined from all others, by assigning to it a property 
which belongs to it exclusively. But this end may be 
generally attained in two very different ways ; either by 
a definition which is simply characteristic, that is, in- 
dicative of a property which, although truly exclusive, 
does not make known the mode of generation of the nh- 
ject ; or by a definition which is really explanatory, that 
is, which characterizes the object by a property which ex- 
presses one of its modes of generation. For example, in 
considering the circle as the line, which, under the same 



contour, contains the greatest area, we have evidently a 
definition of the first kind ; while in choosing the prop- 
erty of its having all its points eqally distant from a fixed 
point, we have a definition of the second kind. It is, be- 
sides, evident, as a general principle, that even when any 
object whatever is known at first only by a characteristic 
definition, we ought, nevertheless, to regard it as suscep- 
tible of explanatory definitions, which the farther study 
of the object would necessarily lead us to discover. 

This being premised, it is clear that the general ob- 
servation above made, which represents every definition 
of a line as being necessarily an equation of that line in 
a certain system of co-ordinates, cannot apply to defini- 
tions which are simply characteristic ; it is to be un- 
derstood only of definitions which are truly explanatory. 
But, in considering only this class, the principle is easy 
to prove. In fact, it is evidently impossible to define the 
generation of a line without specifying a certain relation 
between the two simple motions of translation or of rota- 
tion, into which the motion of the point which describes it 
will be decomposed at each instant. Now if we form the 
most general conception of what constitutes a system of 
co-ordinates, and admit all possible systems, it is clear 
that such a relation will be nothing else but the equation 
of the proposed line, in a system of co-ordinates of a na- 
ture corresponding to that of the mode of generation con- 
sidered. Thus, for example, the common definition of 
the circle may evidently be regarded as being immedi- 
ately the polar equation of this curve, taking the centre 
of the circle for the pole. In the same way, the ele- 
mentary definition of the ellipse or of the hyperbola as 
being the curve generated by a point which moves in 


such a manner that the sum or the difference of its dis- 
tances from two fixed points remains constant gives at 
once, for either the one or the other curve, the equation 
y+ x =c, taking for the system of co-ordinates that in 
which the position of a point would be determined by its 
distances from two fixed points, and choosing for these 
poles the two given foci. In like manner, the common 
definition of, any cycloid would furnish directly, for that 
curve, the equation y=mx ; adopting as the co-ordinates 
of each point the arc which it marks upon a circle of inva- 
riable radius, measuring from the point of contact of that 
circle with a fixed line, and the rectilinear distance from 
that point of contact to a certain origin taken on that 
right line. We can make analogous and equally easy ver- 
ifications with respect to the customary definitions of spi- 
rals, of epicycloids, &c. We shall constantly find that 
there exists a certain system of co-ordinates, in which we 
immediately obtain a very simple equation of the pro- 
posed line, by merely writing algebraically the condition 
imposed by the mode of generation considered. 

Besides its direct importance as a means of rendering 
perfectly apparent the necessary representation of every 
line by an equation, the preceding consideration seems to 
me to possess a true scientific utility, in characterizing 
with precision the principal general difficulty which oc- 
curs in the actual establishment of these equations, and in 
consequently furnishing an interesting indication with re- 
spect to the course to be pursued in inquiries of this kind, 
which, by their nature, could not admit of complete and 
invariable rules. In fact, since any definition whatever 
of a line, at least among those which indicate a mode of 
generation, furnishes directly the equation of that line in 


a certain system of co-ordinates, or, rather, of itself con- 
stitutes that equation, it follows that the difficulty which 
we often experience in discovering the equation of a 
curve, by means of certain of its characteristic properties, 
a difficulty which is sometimes very great, must proceed 
essentially only from the commonly imposed condition of 
expressing this curve analytically by the aid of a desig- 
nated system of co-ordinates, instead of admitting indif- 
ferently all possible systems. These different systems 
cannot be regarded in analytical geometry as being all 
equally suitable ; for various reasons, the most impor- 
tant of which will be hereafter discussed, geometers think 
that curves should almost always be referred, as far as is 
possible, to rectilinear co-ordinates, properly so called. 
Now we see, from what precedes, that in many cases these 
particular co-ordinates will not be those with reference to 
which the equation of the curve will be found to be di- 
rectly established by the proposed definition. The prin- 
cipal difficulty presented by the formation of the equation 
of a line really consists, then, in general, in a certain 
transformation of co-ordinates. It is undoubtedly true 
that this consideration does not subject the establishment 
of these equations to a truly complete general method, the 
success of which is always certain ; which, from the very 
nature of the subject, is evidently chimerical : but such a 
view may throw much useful light upon the course which 
it is proper to adopt, in order to arrive at the end pro- 
posed. Thus, after having in the first place formed the 
preparatory equation, which is spontaneously derived 
from the definition which we are considering, it will be 
necessary, in order to obtain the equation belonging to 
the system of co-ordinates which must be finally admit- 


ted, to endeavour to express in a function of these last co- 
ordinates those which naturally correspond to the given 
mode of generation. It is upon this last labour that it 
is evidently impossible to give invariable and precise pre- 
cepts. We can only say that we shall have so many 
more resources in this matter as we shall know more of 
true analytical geometry, that is, as we shall know the 
algebraical expression of a greater number of different al- 
gebraical phenomena. 


In order to complete the philosophical exposition of the 
conception which serves as the base of analytical geom- 
etry, I have yet to notice the considerations relating to 
the choice of the system of co-ordinates which is in gen- 
eral the most suitable. They will give .the rational ex- 
planation of the preference unanimously accorded to the 
ordinary rectilinear system ; a preference which has hith- 
erto been rather the effect of an empirical sentiment of 
the superiority of this system, than the exact result of a 
direct and thorough analysis. 

Two different Points of View. In order to decide 
clearly between all the different systems of co-ordinates, 
it is indispensable to distinguish with care the two gen- 
eral points of view, the converse of one another, which 
belong to analytical geometry ; namely, the relation of 
algebra to geometry, founded upon the representation of 
lines by equations ; and, reciprocally, the relation of ge- 
ometry to algebra, founded on the representation of equa-^ 
tions by lines. 

It is evident that in every investigation of general ge- 
ometry these two fundamental points of view are of ne- 


oessity always found combined, since we have always to 
pass alternately, and at insensible intervals, so to say, 
from geometrical to analytical considerations, and from 
analytical to geometrical considerations. But the ne- 
cessity of here temporarily separating them is none the 
less real ; for the answer to the question of method which 
we are examining is, in fact, as we shall see presently, 
very far from being the same in both these relations, so 
that without this distinction we could not form any clear 
idea of it. 

1. Representation of Lines by Equations. Under the 
first point of view the representation of lines by equa- 
tions the only reason which could lead us to prefer one 
system of co-ordinates to another would be the greater 
simplicity of the equation of each line, and greater facil- 
ity in arriving at it. Now it is easy to see that there does 
not exist, and could not be expected to exist, any system 
of co-ordinates deserving in that respect a constant pref- 
erence over all others. In fact, we have above remarked 
that for each geometrical definition proposed we can con- 
ceive a system of co-ordinates in which the equation of 
the line is obtained at once, and is necessarily found to 
be also very simple ; and this system, moreover, inevita- 
bly varies with the nature of the characteristic property 
under consideration. The rectilinear system could not, 
therefore, be constantly the most advantageous for this ob- 
ject, although it may often be very favourable ; there is 
probably no system which, in certain particular cases, 
should not be preferred to it, as well as to every other. 

2. Representation of Equations by Lines. It is by no 
means so, however, under the second point of view. We 
can, indeed, easily establish, as a general principle, that 


the ordinary rectilinear system must necessarily be bet- 
ter adapted than any other to the representation of equa- 
tions by the corresponding geometrical loci ; that is to 
say, that this representation is constantly more simple 
and more faithful in it than in any other. 

Let us consider, for this object, that, since every sys- 
tem of co-ordinates consists in determining a point by the 
intersection of two lines, the system adapted to furnish 
the most suitable geometrical loci must be that in which 
these two lines are the simplest possible ; a consideration 
which confines our choice to the rectilinear system. In 
truth, there is evidently an infinite number of systems 
which deserve that name, that is to say, which employ 
only right lines to determine points, besides the ordinary 
system which assigns the distances from two fixed lines 
as co-ordinates; such, for example, would be that in 
which the co-ordinates of each point should be the two 
angles which the right lines, which go from that point to 
two fixed points, make with the right line, which joins 
these last points : so that this first consideration is not 
rigorously sufficient to explain the preference unanimous- 
ly given to the common system. But in examining in a 
more thorough manner the nature of every system of co- 
ordinates, we also perceive that each of the two lines, 
whose meeting determines the point considered, must 
necessarily offer at every instant, among its different con- 
ditions of determination, a single variable condition, which 
gives rise to the corresponding co-ordinate, all the rest 
being fixed, and constituting the axes of the system, 
taking this term in its most extended mathematical ac- 
ceptation. The variation is indispensable, in order that 
we may be able to consider all possible positions ; and 


the fixity is no less so, in order that there may exist 
means of comparison. Thus, in all rectilinear systems, 
each of the two right lines will be subjected to a fixed 
condition, and the ordinate will result from the variable 

Superiority of rectilinear Co-ordinates. From these 
considerations it is evident, as a general principle, that 
the most favourable system for the construction of geo- 
metrical loci will necessarily be that in which the vari- 
able condition of each right line shall be the simplest 
possible ; the fixed condition being left free to be made 
complex, if necessary to attain that object. Now, of 
all possible manners of determining two movable right 
lines, the easiest to follow geometrically is certainly that 
in which, the direction of each right line remaining in- 
variable, it only approaches or recedes, more or less, to 
or from a constant axis. It would be, for example, evi- 
dently more difficult to figure to one's self clearly the 
changes of place of a point which is determined by the 
intersection of two right lines, which each turn around 
a fixed point, making a greater or smaller angle with a 
certain axis, as in the system of co-ordinates previously 
noticed. Such is the true general explanation of the 
fundamental property possessed by the common rectilin- 
ear system, of being better adapted than any other to the 
geometrical representation of equations, inasmuch as it 
is that one in which it is the easiest to conceive the 
change of place of a point resulting from the change in 
the value of its co-ordinates. In order to feel clearly all 
the force of this consideration, it would be sufficient to 
carefully compare this system with the polar system, in 
which this geometrical image, so simple and so easy to 


follow, of two right lines moving parallel, each one of 
them, to its corresponding axis, is replaced by the com- 
plicated picture of an infinite series of concentric cir- 
cles, cut by a right line compelled to turn about a fixed 
point. It is, moreover, easy to conceive in advance what 
must be the extreme importance to analytical geometry 
of a property so profoundly elementary, which, for that 
reason, must be recurring at every instant, and take a 
progressively increasing value in all labours of this kind. 
Perpendicularity of the Axes. In pursuing farther 
the consideration which demonstrates the superiority of 
the ordinary system of co-ordinates over any other as to 
the representation of equations, we may also take notice 
of the utility for this object of the common usage of tak- 
ing the two axes perpendicular to each other, whenever 
possible, rather than with any other inclination. As re- 
gards the representation of lines by equations, this sec- 
ondary circumstance is no more universally proper than 
we have seen the general nature of the system to be ; 
since, according to the particular occasion, any other in- 
clination of tfie axes may deserve our preference in that 
respect. But, in the inverse point of view, it is easy to 
see that rectangular axes constantly permit us to repre- 
sent equations in a more simple and even more faithful 
manner ; for, with oblique axes, space being divided by 
them into regions which no longer have a perfect identity, 
it follows that, if the geometrical locus of the equation 
extends into all these regions at once, there will be pre- 
sented, by reason merely of this inequality of the angles, 
differences of figure which do not correspond to any 
analytical diversity, and will necessarily alter the rigor- 
ous exactness of the representation, by being confounded 


with the proper results of the algebraic comparisons. 
For example, an equation like x m +y m = c, which, by its 
perfect symmetry, should evidently give a curve com- 
posed of four identical quarters, will be represented, on 
the contrary, if we take axes not rectangular, by a geo- 
metric locus, the four parts of which will be unequal. 
It is plain that the only means of avoiding all incon- 
veniences of this kind is to suppose the angle of the two 
axes to be a right angle. 

The preceding discussion clearly shows that, although 
the ordinary system of rectilinear co-ordinates has no con- 
stant superiority over all others in one of the two funda- 
mental points of view which are continually combined in 
analytical geometry, yet as, on the other hand, it is not 
constantly inferior, its necessary and absolute greater 
aptitude for the representation of equations must cause 
it to generally receive the preference ; although it may 
evidently happen, in some particular cases, that the ne- 
cessity of simplifying equations and of obtaining them 
more easily may determine geometers to adopt a less 
perfect system. The rectilinear system is, therefore, the 
one by means of which are ordinarily constructed the 
most essential theories of general geometry, intended to 
express analytically the most important geometrical phe- 
nomena. When it is thought necessary to choose some 
other, the polar system is almost always the one which 
is fixed upon, this system being of a nature sufficiently 
opposite to that of the rectilinear system to cause the 
equations, which are too complicated with respect to the 
latter, to become, in general, sufficiently simple with re- 
spect to the other. Polar co-ordiuates, moreover, have 
often the advantage of admitting of a more direct and 


natural concrete signification; as is the case in mechan- 
ics, for the geometrical questions to which the theory of 
circular movement gives rise, and in almost all the cases 
of celestial geometry. 

In order to simplify the exposition, we have thus far 
considered the fundamental conception of analytical ge- 
ometry only with respect to plane curves, the general 
study of which was the only object of the great philo- 
sophical renovation produced by Descartes. To com- 
plete this important explanation, we have now to show 
summarily how this elementary idea was extended by 
Clairaut, about a century afterwards, to the general 
study of surfaces and curves of double curvature. The 
considerations which have been already given will per- 
mit me to limit myself on this subject to the rapid ex- 
amination of what is strictly peculiar to this new case. 


Determination of a Point in Space. The complete 
analytical determination of a point in space evidently re- 
quires the values of three co-ordinates to be assigned ; as, 
for example, in the system which is generally adopted, 
and which corresponds to the rectilinear system of plane 
geometry, distances from the point to three fixed planes, 
usually perpendicular to one another ; which presents the 
point as the intersection of three planes whose direction 
is invariable. We might also employ the distances from 
the movable point to three fixed points, which would 
determine it by the intersection of three spheres with a 
common centre. In like manner, the position of a point 
would be defined by giving its distance from a fixed point, 


and the direction of that distance, by means of the twc 
angles which this right line makes with two invariable 
axes ; this is the polar system of geometry of three di- 
mensions ; the point is then constructed by the inter- 
section of a sphere having a fixed centre, with two right 
cones with circular bases, whose axes and common sum- 
mit do not change. In a word, there is evidently, in this 
case a.t least, the same infinite variety among the vari- 
ous possible systems of co-ordinates which we have al- 
ready observed in geometry of two dimensions. In gen- 
eral, we have to conceive a point as being always deter- 
mined by the intersection of any three surfaces whatever, 
as it was in the former case by that of two lines : each 
of these three surfaces has, in like manner, all its condi- 
tions of determination constant, excepting one, which 
gives rise to the corresponding co-ordinates, whose pecu- 
liar geometrical influence is thus to constrain the point 
to be situated upon that surface. 

This being premised, it is clear that if the three co- 
ordinates of a point are entirely independent of one an- 
other, that point can take successively all possible posi- 
tions in space. But if the point is compelled to remain 
upon a certain surface defined in any manner whatever, 
then two co-ordinates are evidently sufficient for deter- 
mining its situation at each instant, since the proposed 
surface will take the place of the condition imposed by 
the third co-ordinate. We must then, in this case, un- 
der the analytical point of view, necessarily conceive this 
last co-ordinate as a determinate function of the two 
others, these latter remaining perfectly independent of 
each other. Thus there will be a certain equation be- 
tween the three variable co-ordinates, which will be per- 


manent, and which will be the only one, in order to cor- 
respond to the precise degree of indetermination in the 
position of the point. 

Expression of Surfaces by Equations. This equation, 
more or less easy to be discovered, but always possible, 
will be the analytical definition of the proposed surface, 
since it must be verified for all the points of that surface, 
and for them alone. If the surface undergoes any change 
whatever, even a simple change of place, the equation 
must undergo a more or less serious corresponding mod- 
ification. In a word, all geometrical phenomena relating 
to surfaces will admit of being translated by certain equiv- 
alent analytical conditions appropriate to equations of 
three variables ; and in the establishment and interpre- 
tation of this general and necessary harmony will essen- 
tially consist the science of analytical geometry of three 

Expression of Equations by Surfaces. Considering 
next this fundamental conception in the inverse point of 
view, we see in the same manner that every equation of 
three variables may, in general, be represented geomet- 
rically by a determinate surface, primitively defined by 
the very characteristic property, that the co-ordinates of 
all its points always retain the mutual relation enuncia- 
ted in this equation. This geometrical locus will evi- 
dently change, for the same equation, according to the 
system of co-ordinates which may serve for the construc- 
tion of this representation. In adopting, for example, 
the rectilinear system, it is clear that in the equation be- 
tween the three variables, x, y, z, every particular value 
attributed to z will give an equation between x and y, the 
geometrical locus of which will be a certain line situated 


in a plane parallel to the plane of x and y, and at a dis- 
tance from this last equal to the value of z ; so that the 
complete geometrical locus will present itself as com- 
posed of an infinite series of lines superimposed in a se- 
ries of parallel planes (excepting the interruptions which 
may exist), and will consequently form a veritable sur- 
face. It would be the same in considering any other sys- 
tem of co-ordinates, although the geometrical construction 
of the equation becomes more difficult to follow. 

Such is the elementary conception, the complement of 
the original idea of Descartes, on which is founded gen- 
eral geometry relative to surfaces. It would be useless 
to take up here directly the other considerations which 
have been above indicated, with respect to lines, and 
which any one can easily extend to surfaces ; whether 
to show that every definition of a surface by any method 
of generation whatever is really a direct equation of that 
surface in a certain system of co-ordinates, or to deter- 
mine among all the different systems of possible co-ordi- 
nates that one which is generally the most convenient. 
I will only add, on this last point, that the necessary supe- 
riority of the ordinary rectilinear system, as to the repre- 
sentation of equations, is evidently still more marked in 
analytical geometry of three dimensions than fh that of 
two, because of the incomparably greater geometrical 
complication which would result from the choice of any 
.other system. This can be verified in the most striking 
manner by considering the polar system in particular, 
which is the most employed after the ordinary rectilinear 
system, for surfaces as well as for plane curves, and for 
the same reasons. 

In order to complete the general exposition of the fun- 


damental conception relative to the analytical study of 
surfaces, a philosophical examination should be made of 
a final improvement of the highest importance, which 
Monge has introduced into the very elements of this the- 
ory, for the classification of surfaces in natural families, 
established according to the mode of generation, and ex- 
pressed algebraically by common differential equations, or 
by finite equations containing arbitrary functions. 


Let us now consider the last elementary point of view 
of analytical geometry of three dimensions ; that relating 
to the algebraic representation of curves considered in 
space, in the most general manner. In continuing to 
follow the principle which has been constantly employed, 
that of the degree of indetermination of the geometrical 
locus, corresponding to the degree of independence of the 
variables, it is evident, as a general principle, that when 
a point is required to be situated upon some certain curve, 
a single co-ordinate is enough for completely determining 
its position, by the intersection of this curve with the sur- 
face which results from this co-ordinate. Thus, in this 
case, the two other co-ordinates of the point must be con- 
ceived as functions necessarily determinate and distinct 
from the first. It follows that every line, considered in 
space, is then represented analytically, no longer by a 
single equation, but by the system of two equations be- 
tween the three co-ordinates of any one of its points. It 
is clear, indeed, from another point of view, that since 
each of these equations, considered separately, expresses 
a certain surface, their combination presents the proposed 
line as the intersection of two determinate surfaces. 


Such is the most general manner of conceiving the alge- 
braic representation of a line in analytical geometry of 
three dimensions. This conception is commonly consid- 
ered in too restricted a manner, when we confine our- 
selves to considering a line as determined by the system 
of its two projections upon two of the co-ordinate planes ; 
a system characterized, analytically, by this peculiarity, 
that each of the two equations of the line then contains 
only two of the three co-ordinates, instead of simulta- 
neously including the three variables. This considera- 
tion, which consists in regarding the line as the intersec- 
tion of two cylindrical surfaces parallel to two of the 
three axes of the co-ordinates, besides the inconvenience 
of being confined to the ordinary rectilinear system, has 
the fault, if we strictly confine ourselves to it, of intro- 
ducing useless difficulties into the analytical representa- 
tion of lines, since the combination of these two cylin- 
ders would evidently not be always the most suitable for 
forming the equations of a line. Thus, considering this 
fundamental notion in its entire generality, it will be 
necessary in each case to choose, from among the infinite 
number of couples of surfaces, the intersection of which 
might produce the proposed curve, that one which will 
lend itself the best to the establishment of equations, as 
being composed of the best known surfaces. Thus, if 
the problem is to express analytically a circle in space, 
it will evidently be preferable to consider it as the inter- 
section of a sphere and a plane, rather than as proceed- 
ing from any other combination of surfaces which could 
equally produce it. 

In truth, this manner of conceiving the representation 
of lines by equations, in analytical geometry of three di- 


mensions, produces, by its nature, a necessary inconve- 
nience, that of a certain analytical confusion, consisting 
in this : that the same line may thus be expressed, with 
the same system of co-ordinates, by an infinite number 
of different couples of equations, on account of the in- 
finite number of couples of surfaces which can form it ; 
a circumstance which may cause some difficulties in rec- 
ognizing this line under all the algebraical disguises of 
which it admits. But there exists a very simple method 
for causing this inconvenience to disappear ; it consists 
in giving up the facilities which result from this variety 
of geometrical constructions. It suffices, in fact, what- 
ever may be the analytical system primitively estab- 
lished for a certain line, to be able to deduce from it the 
system corresponding to a single couple of surfaces uni- 
formly generated ; as, for example, to that of the two 
cylindrical surfaces which project the proposed line upon 
two of the co-ordinate planes ; surfaces which will evi- 
dently be always identical, in whatever manner the line 
may have been obtained, and which will not vary except 
when that line itself shall change. Now, in choosing 
this fixed system, which is actually the most simple, we 
shall generally be able to deduce from the primitive equa- 
tions those which correspond to them in this special con- 
struction, by transforming them, by two successive elim- 
inations, into two equations, each containing only two of 
the variable co-ordinates, and thereby corresponding to 
the two surfaces of projection. Such is really the prin- 
cipal destination of this sort of geometrical combination, 
which thus offers to us an invariable and certain means 
of recognizing the identity of lines in spite of the diver- 
sity of their equations, which is sometimes very greats 



Having now considered the fundamental conception of 
analytical geometry under its principal elementary as- 
pects, it is proper, in order to make the sketch complete, 
to notice here the general imperfections yet presented by 
this conception with respect to both geometry and to 

Relatively to geometry, we must remark that the 
equations are as yet adapted to represent only entire 
geometrical loci, and not at all determinate portions of 
those loci. It would, however, be necessary, in some cir- 
cumstances, to be able to express analytically a part of 
a line or of a surface, or even a discontinuous line or 
surface, composed of a series of sections belonging to dis- 
tinct geometrical figures, such as the contour of a poly- 
gon, or the surface of a polyhedron. Thermology, es- 
pecially, often gives rise to such considerations, to which 
our present analytical geometry is necessarily inapplica- 
ble. The labours of M. Fourier on discontinuous func- 
tions have, however, begun to fill up this great gap, and 
have thereby introduced a new and essential improve- 
ment into the fundamental conception of Descartes. But 
this manner of representing heterogeneous or partial fig- 
ures, being founded on the employment of trigonometri- 
cal series proceeding according to the sines of an infinite 
series of multiple arcs, or on the use of certain definite; 
integrals equivalent to those series, and the general in- 
tegral of which is unknown, presents as yet too much 
complication to admit of being immediately introduced 
into the system of analytical geometry. 

Relatively to analysis, we must begin by observing 


that our inability to conceive a geometrical representation 
of equations containing four, five, or more variables, anal- 
ogous to those representations which all equations of two 
or of three variables admit, must not be viewed as an im- 
perfection of our system of analytical geometry, for it 
evidently belongs to the very nature of the subject. 
Analysis being necessarily more general than geometry, 
since it relates to all possible phenomena, it would be 
very unphilosophical to desire always to find among ge- 
ometrical phenomena alone a concrete representation of 
all the laws which analysis can express. 

There exists, however, another imperfection of less 
importance, which must really be viewed as proceeding 
from the manner in which we conceive analytical geom- 
etry. It consists in the evident incompleteness of our 
present representation of equations of two or of three va- 
riables by lines or surfaces, inasmuch as in the construc- 
tion of the geometric locus we pay regard only to the 
real solutions of equations, without at all noticing any 
imaginary solutions. The general course of these last 
should, however, by its nature, be quite as susceptible as 
that of the others of a geometrical representation. It 
follows from this omission that the graphic picture of the 
equation is constantly imperfect, and sometimes even so 
much so that there is no geometric representation at all 
when the equation admits of only imaginary solutions. 
But, even in this last case, we evidently ought to be 
able to distinguish between equations as different in 
themselves as these, for example, 

z ! +3/*+l=0, z 6 +y 4 4-l=0, y a +e x =0. 
We know, moreover, that this principal imperfection of- 
ten brings with it, in analytical geometry of two or of 

three dimensions, a number of secondary inconveniences, 
arising from several analytical modifications not corre- 
sponding to any geometrical phenomena. 

Our philosophical exposition of the fundamental con- 
ception of analytical geometry shows us clearly that this 
science consists essentially in determining what is the 
general analytical expression of such or such a geomet- 
rical phenomenon belonging to lines or to surfaces ; and, 
reciprocally, in discovering the geometrical interpretation 
of such or such an analytical consideration. A detailed 
examination of the most important general questions 
would show us how geometers have succeeded in actually 
establishing this beautiful harmony, and in thus imprint- 
ing on geometrical science, regarded as a whole, its pres- 
ent eminently perfect character of rationality and of 

Note. The author devotes the two following chapters of his course to 
the more detailed examination of Analytical Geometry of two and of three 
dimensions ; but his subsequent publication of a separate work upon this 
branch of mathematics has been thought to render unnecessary the repro- 
duction of these two chapters in the present volume. 


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